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Johanna ter Steege,
Fate has taken its toll on the aging cabaret singer Ruth and the young but terminally ill Jonas. Yet despite their great age difference and their entirely opposite experiences in life, they form an intense bond and give each other a reason and purpose to live.
Hello! I watched "Auf das Leben," or "To Life!" on July 19th at the Stony Brook Film Festival. This is a slow, reflective film of two people's lives (Jonas/Max Riemelt and Ruth/Hannelore Elsner) and how they have lost their wills to live but eventually help each other find a reason to stay alive. While the plot is not the most complex and expansive, there is a whole lot of themes, the most prominent of which are loss, life, love, and suffering.
The whole film is shot beautifully, and some scenes are absolutely breathtaking. There are a lot of imagery that Alice Brauner (the producer) explained during the QA, like small symbols to why they chose to portray the gritty side of Berlin. The score is filled with remastered Yiddish songs that will make you want to up and groove. These songs do serve a bigger purpose in the film however, and that is exposition about Ruth's past romance and experience in the Holocaust, both of which play a huge role in the film. Now, this is also where my biggest gripe of the film kicks in: the exposition flashbacks, while entertaining, are way too long. They are the only things that screw with the otherwise good pacing of the film. Ninety minutes have never felt so long, yet at the end only one storyline (Ruth's) feels actually conclusive. Jonas' storyline only kicks into full gear the last 30min of the film and as a result feels abrupt and very inconclusive. Because of that, I love this film quite a lot but I could not bring myself to completely adore it.
Max Riemelt is amazing in this film. His performance as Jonas is stunning and it's hard not to fall in love with the character very early on. It's hard to imagine someone as soft-spoken as Max to yell and shout so fiercely in specific parts of the film, but he pulls it off perfectly. His portrayal of a young man frustrated with himself and his life is truly heartbreaking. Max is great at displaying emotions subtly on his face. He plays a double role- Ruth's lover in her flashbacks. He doesn't do too much acting in that role, but he does sing. Yes, you heard right, Max sings and it's glorious. Hannelore Elsner also pulls off her role as a jaded Holocaust and broken-heart survivor (Ruth) very well. I'm not familiar with this actor at all, but her tight delivery of lines truly embody the personality of her character (sarcastic and tough on the outside but very scarred and tired on the inside). I look forward to more work by her!
Bottom line: I love this film. It's slow, but a beautifully woven story about two people learning to embrace life again.
The huge theater in Stony Brook's Staller Center was packed, to my surprise. It was mostly seniors, but among the crowd were a few young ones like me and my friend, the producer Alice Brauner, her son, and another important person who is just slipping my mind right now. Oops. The crowd's reception to the film was very positive (the crowd clapped quite loudly and cheered and one audience member raised his hand just to praise the film ("WOW WOW WOW WOW!") and when Alice did the QA she got a whole lot of nice questions.
After the QA, audience members started filing out. However, we did have a chance to talk with Alice herself. My mind was still reeling from the film and I couldn't think straight, so I blubbered that I loved the film, hugged her, and requested autographs for my friend and I. She went beyond a simple autograph by asking us our names and scribbling way more than her name on our tickets. Thanks, Alice!
If anyone has specific questions about the film after it has been publicly released, feel free to ask. Alice did a whole lot of explaining!
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