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Brecht celebrated at Munich Film Festival

Jochen Kürten ct
June 27, 2018

Brecht's Threepenny Opera makes its debut at the Munich Film Festival this week — one of the 185 movies on the agenda. Several works pick up on current concerns about social media and omnipresent surveillance.

Macki Messer film still shows woman singing on stage

The 36th edition of Germany's second-largest film festival begins with a focus on German playwright Bertolt Brecht and his famous work, The Threepenny Opera.

In Mackie Messer: Brecht's Threepenny Film, Joachim A. Lang does not begin with an on-screen version of the famous Brechtian musical, but rather with a more complex variation on it. The plot revolves around Brecht's dream of bringing his 1920s stage success to the silver screen — and it's a true story. 

A film borne of conflict between Brecht and his producers

Brecht lost a battle when his producers refused to let him cooperate on the production during the final preparation stages of the film version. As a result, the playwright was unable to bring his ideas to life about how the screenplay should be designed. This conflict was essentially the age-old dispute between art and commerce. Whereas Brecht wanted to send a message with the film and relied on the avant-garde, the producers instead had financial interests in mind. 
Lang created his work as a film within a film. The audience sees The Threepenny Opera set on stage, as well as the dispute between Brecht and the production company. They can also see how Brecht's film version might have looked.

Man in coattails and tophat inside a ballroom as other men in costume look on
Tobias Moretti as Macki MesserImage: FILMFEST MÜNCHEN 2018

With Lars Eidinger as Brecht, Tobias Moretti as Mackie Messer, Hannah Herzsprung as Polly and Robert Stadlober as Kurt Weill, the film is certainly not a poor choice as a festival-opener in the Bavarian capital.

Munich film festival to become more international — and diverse

The festival is set to expand in the future, as Bavaria's Prime Minister Markus Söder announced last week.

The announcement came on the same day the new head of the Berlinale film festival was announced.

This was likely no coincidence, but rather a sign that Munich aims to become more competitive. Over the next few years, an additional €3 million ($3.5 million) will supplement the festival's budget and a new area for virtual reality and games will be conceived, in efforts to broaden international appeal. 

A woman sitting at a kitchen table with a rifle against the wall behind her
An eyewitness to an era: Katharina Brasch in The Brasch FamilyImage: Filmfest München 2018

German cinema and television remain at the center of attention in Munich as they have been traditionally, yet they are flanked by a large selection of international productions, many of which have not been screened in Germany yet.

The Neues Deutsches Kino (New German Cinema) series presents 16 films, including features and documentaries. The documentary category includes, for example, the impressive multi-generation saga The Brasch Family by Annekatrin Henkel, which tells a story from GDR history.

Retrospective: A look at Argentina

Numerous films are also shown in the international series such as Competition Cinemasters and Competition Cinevision. Some of them have recently caused a stir in Cannes and at other festivals — and others are yet to be discovered.

This year's retrospective is dedicated to Argentinean director Lucrecia Martel, who deals with social phenomena in her homeland in a visually stimulating and surprising way.

Filmstill from The Swamp shows a woman drinking wine while a man smokes in the background
The Swamp by Lucrecia Martel provides a look into Argentian lifeImage: Filmfest München 2018

This year, Munich celebrates two other greats of the international film world: British actress Emma Thompson and British-American director Terry Gilliam.

Active in the industry and the star of many Hollywood films since the late 80s, Thompson presents her latest work — a convincing performance as a conscientious judge of morally intricate cases in the Ian McEwan movie The Children Act.

Legendary film project by Terry Gilliam

Gilliam is coming to Munich for the German premiere of his new movie, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote — a project Gilliam worked on for several years in spite of his best intentions. Originally, the director wanted to bring the film to screen in the early 2000s but filming was interrupted for various reasons over and over again; the time delays led to a character who completely changed over the years.

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote — just like the opening film, Mackie Knife: Brecht's Threepenny Film — is a game of deception, a movie with differing levels of narrative.

A man in a panama hat standing atop a sculpture hand in The Man who killed Don Quixote
A filmset as stage in The Man Who Killed Don QuixoteImage: Filmfest München 2018

Over the next several days, attendees at Munich's Film Festival will have the chance to see 185 films from 43 countries, including some not intended for the silver screen.

One of the cinematic highlights is the running of the first episode of the long-announced series based on the book by Patrick Süskind, Perfume, which will be broadcast on German television this autumn. With this series, too, the direction and production teams did not simply film an adaptation of the novel but were inspired by it to create something new: the series is not based in 18th century France, as the book is, but rather takes place in the 1980s and 2018.

Loneliness through social media

Festival head Diana Iljine's team has put together an attractive program again this year. A theme that is mentioned in many of the works, according to the festival director, is the omnipresence of surveillance and the loneliness brought on by social media. These social problems, currently discussed so widely, are in the focus of many films in Munich — exciting times.