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New Film Adaptation Touches Nerve in Recession-Hit Germany

Greed and misplaced priorities form the basis for the film production of Thomas Mann's "Buddenbrooks." Set in northern Germany at the end of the 19th century, the film has struck a chord with modern-day theatergoers.

Two main characters in Buddenbrooks

The film is full of dramatic twists and turns

Rarely has the adaptation of an historical work of fiction touched the nerve of the times as much as the sumptuous film production of Thomas Mann's "Buddenbrooks."

The story of the rise and fall of a 19th-century merchant family in northern Germany, in which relationships and decisions take a back seat to economic gain, serves as a reminder of the need to set other priorities in view of the global financial crisis.

Due to open in cinemas across the country on Christmas Day, director Heinrich Breloer's film also presents a glamorous picture of a bygone era from which the face of Germany has changed beyond recognition.

History repeats itself

Tony Buddenbrook (Jessica Schwarz, left) and Morten Schwarzkopf (Alexander Fehling)

Not all love stories have happy endings

Breloer has always been fascinated by Mann and his novel "Buddenbrooks," which was written in 1901. But the director and his team of well-known German actors were taken aback by how much the events of a more than a century ago are reflected in what is happening today.

"It certainly is a surprise," said Armin Mueller-Stahl, who plays Consul Jean Buddenbrook, the patriarch of the middle-class family from Luebeck. "The story highlights the dilemma caused when people think that greed is the essence of life."

But it is not only about greed and striving for success. It is also about family relationships: the dispute between the brothers Christian, who wants nothing to do with the family business, and Thomas, who is willing to fill the void left by his father.

There is also their sister Tony, played by up-and-coming actress Jessica Schwarz, who sacrifices her true love for the sake of the family's fortune; and the icy discipline of their mother, played by Iris Berben.

Focus on family

Woman at a ball

The movie follows the downfall of a wealthy family

Breloer shows there is no real life to be won from pursuing false goals. The sacrifices that the family made over three generations to achieve success take too high a toll on its strength and energy. In the end the family falls into decline.

Much of the film was shot on location in Baltic Sea port of Luebeck, including the "Buddenbrookhaus," where the Mann family once lived. Very little in the house had to be changed to reconstruct the atmosphere of the time, according to the director.

Audiences will lap up the impressive ballroom scenes where ladies in dazzling costumes dance as the merchants standing stiff in their top hats watch the festivities from the corn market.

The 150-minute-long drama entertains without arousing too much emotion, even though a lot of people die. The stars play their roles well, without standing out.

A made-for-TV movie?

Thomas Buddernbrook (Mark Waschke, left) and Christian (August Diehl, right)

The movie highlights conflict between brothers

Critics have referred to Breloer's adaption as an amphibian film -- a cross between a full-length feature film and a production made with funding from television. This enables it to be shown both on the big screen and on television.

As a result, the experience of watching such an epic in the cinema suffers. The drama, camera work and editing is all geared to television.

Thomas Mann won the Nobel Literature Prize in 1929. More than 20 films have been made of his works, including several versions of "Buddenbrooks." But only one, Luchino Visconti's adaptation of "Death in Venice," starring Dirk Bogarde, received widespread international acclaim.

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