The Farewell | Chicago Reader

The Farewell

In the summer of 1956, an ailing Bertolt Brecht spends one last day at his cottage on the outskirts of East Berlin, presiding over a wide assortment of lovers like an exasperated patriarch. Among the women jostling for his attention are Danish actress-novelist Ruth Berlau, editor and translator Elisabeth Hauptmann, promising thespian Kathe Reichel, and Isot Kilian, the mistress of a hotheaded political agitator—not to mention Brecht's long-suffering wife, Helene Weigel, and resentful daughter, Barbara. As portrayed by the burly, sad-eyed Josef Bierbichler, Brecht is less a literary lion than an exhausted intellectual at the end of his rope, both creatively and ideologically (he would die a few weeks later, shortly after returning to work with his Berliner Ensemble). The script, by playwright and Brecht scholar Klaus Pohl, carefully notates the conflicted motives and complex emotions of an isolated group clinging to the past, and the players are superbly understated. Jan Schütte (Dragon Chow) directed this 2000 German feature; the wonderfully terse score is by John Cale. In German with subtitles. 91 min.

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