The Berlin International Film Festival is, as the name would perhaps suggest, a showcase for films. Sure, television is the focus of some festival sidebars, such as Berlinale Series (again, the clue is in the name). This is why it was a baffling programming decision to include Brecht, a three-and-a-bit hours television miniseries in one of the main film sections. There was (rather mercifully) a short interval in the presentation, at which point much of the assembled press got up to use the bathroom, or to smoke a cigarette… and never returned.
Perhaps Brecht will work on television. The size of the big screen magnifies its flaws, from the production design, to the fact they perhaps didn’t have much of a budget for their score, and so just let someone indulge their synthesizer skills. The show often (maybe too often) cuts away from the dramatised action to show archival footage, and even interviews with the real-life figures whose lives are being dramatised. It’s not as though they’re directly commenting on the production, but the effect is jarring, and immediately pulls the viewer from the emaciated, dramatised narrative. Perhaps the biggest crime of this bioseries is that they manage to present Bertolt Brecht, one of the most influential German writers of all time, as boring, and even annoying. His younger self (as played by Tom Schilling) is an uppity little jerk, although the older Brecht (Burghart Klaußner) is far more tolerable.
It’s certainly not Schilling’s fault, and he attacks the thinly sketched character with as much gusto as he can muster. Klaußner maybe has an easier role, since he doesn’t need to think about the plausibility that was sacrificed in the sections that showed Brecht’s rise. The series zips along, bouncing from World War to World War, as Brecht writes and seduces anything with breasts in his field of vision. Despite Schilling’s best efforts, it’s difficult to see why women would be so enamoured by Brecht. There is no tangible rationale for this based upon the way the character is presented, and it’s more a case of because the script said so. The complexity of Brecht’s life and work deserves more than this soapy simplification.
Brecht does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Berlin Film Festival 2019 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Berlin Film Festival website here.