Abschied - Brechts letzter Sommer (The Farewell) (2000)



Director:     Jan Schtte.

Starring:     Josef Bierbichler (Bertolt Brecht), Monica Bleibtreu (Helene Weigel), Jeanette Hain (Kthe Reichel), Elfriede Irrall (Elisabeth Hauptmann), Margit Rogall (Ruth Berlau), Samuel Fintzi (Wolfgang Harich), Renata Zednikowa (Isot Kilian), Birgit Minichmayr (Barbara Brecht), Tilman Gnther (Offizier der Staatssicherheit), Paul Herwig (Manfred Weckwerth), Claudius Freyer (Peter Palitzsch), Emanuel Spitzy (Jungpionier), Slawomir Holland (Offizier der Staatssicherheit), Piotr Kryska (Fahrer der Staatssicherheit).

the German playwright Bertolt Brecht's last summer and the women in his life with the Stasi watching it all


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie. 

August 1956.  Bertolt Brecht is at his summer place.  It is his last day of summer vacation and near to his last day of life. With him are his wife Helene Weigel and his lovers (Kthe Reichel, Ruth Berlau,Elisabeth Hauptmann and Isot Kilian).   Also there are his male assistants, Peter and Manfred, and a colleague Wolfgang Harich, husband to Isot.  

Brecht gets out of bed.  The telephone rings.  It's a call from Ruppi, Brecht's driver.  Helene confirms with him that Brecht wants to leave by seven in the evening.  Helene steps outside and sees her daughter Barbara burning her father's favorite hat.  She scolds her daughter, but Barbara reminds her that she had always told her that the hat stank and had to go.  Brecht reviews some of his writings.  Previous lover Ruth Berlau gets up and stomps around.  Brecht has been ill and so he takes his temperature. 

Two Stasi (East German secret police) agents come to the house to talk with Brecht's wife.  One of them asks her about Wolfgang Harich and his wife Isot.  They are charged with high treason.  He gets Helene to agree to cooperate with the arrest of the couple in return for the Stasi not involving her husband in the matter.  The agent wants everyone gone from the house by six o'clock at the latest.  Helene is to telephone when they are leaving.

Ruth Berlau is in a foul mood.  Kthe Reichel brings flowers to Brecht and leaves them on his windowsill.  He goes to look for her, but runs into Ruth instead.  She wants to leave with him and his entourage, but he informs her that his car is full.  She tells him that he promised to spend a night with her, but Brecht says he is afraid of her because she is usually drunk. 

Wolfgang is upset with Brecht.  He shares his wife with the man, but feels he is not politically involved enough, that he is a political coward.  Wolfgang argues that they need an independent German socialism free from Soviet dominance.  And he wants President Ulbricht gone.   At the dinner table, there is a lot of friction between the wife, the mistresses and Barbara the daughter.  Brecht's assistants, Peter and Manfred, arrive.  They say they are late because of the many security checkpoints.

The Young Pioneers arrive to read a poem to Brecht and his crew.  Brecht seems very pleased by this. 

Brecht is becoming very forgetful.  He even falls asleep while talking to his assistants.  Later he wants his cap, but his daughter has already burned it.  No one wants to tell him about the hat. 

Ruth argues with Elisabeth.  She asks:  "Which plays does he owe to you?  Besides the Three Penny Opera.  She adds:  "He owes me Szechuan, Schweik and Mr. Puntilla.

Helene with Elisabeth's help collects and then burns Wolfgang's criticism of President Ulbricht.  Brecht receives a call from Minister of Culture Becher, but he tells his assistant that he cannot talk to the woman now.  Helene speaks with Isot and says that Wolfgang should apologize to Brecht for being so critical of him.  Wolfgang shows up but Helene finds it impossible to discuss the matter with him directly. 

The driver Ruppi has a flat tire.  And later he is further delayed by the Stasi checkpoint.  Brecht can't remember what changes he wanted to make to a play to be performed in London.  He only remembers that the changes have to be dark  --  "dark gray truth."  Still feeling bad, he asks Helene to get the nurse.  He needs an injection of some kind.  And he still asks about his hat. 

Brecht does not want to see a doctor.  Instead he wants to see Kthe.  In his will he gives her a house and a play.  Kthe tells him that she does not want it.  Eight crew members wait outside to hear of Brecht's progress.  Kthe comes out but says nothing about her conversation with Brecht.  Wolfgang packs and then puts the suitcase on his motorcycle.  He joins the motorcade leaving the house.  In the car Brecht gets a bad nose bleed.  Helene tells her husband that he needs to see a heart specialist.  Brecht is not interested.  At the checkpoint the Stasi grab Wolfgang and Isot. 

Bertolt Brecht died three days later of heart failure.  In 1957, Wolfgang Harich was sentenced by the highest court in the German Democratic Republic to ten years in prison.  Helene Weigel ran the Berlin Ensemble until her death in 1971. 


Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:

Bertolt Brecht was a very influential playwright/director of the 20th century.  He showed that society can and must be changed. 

1898 --  Bertolt Brecht was born.  He grew up in an affluent Augsburg family.

1900  --  birth of Brecht's second wife, Helene Weigel, in Vienna, Austria to middle class parents of Moravian Jewish origin.    

He began performing his own ballads while still in high school.

1921  --  Helene Weigel moves to Berlin and works as an actress. 

1923  -- Brecht and Weigel meet. 

1924  --  he moved to Berlin.  His son Stefan is born.

1924  --  Elisabeth Hauptmann (1897-1973) met Brecht and became his collaborator and lover. 

He married and had a daughter.  He then divorced his first wife. 

1928  -  Berlin production of his Threepenny Opera.  He became world famous. 

1929  --  he married Jewish Helene Weigel.

1930  --  birth of daughter Barbara Brecht (later Barbara Brecht Schall). 

since the 1930's  --  Elisabeth Hauptmann was the editor of Brecht's works. 

1933  --  as a man of the political left, he was a prime target of the Nazis. 

1933  --  with his wife and two children they escape Berlin. 

1933  --  Ruth Berlau (1904-1974), a Danish actress and journalist, met Brecht and Weigel in Denmark.  She introduced them to producers and publishes and also became Brecht's lover.  

1941-1947  --  the Brechts lived in Santa Monica.  As a Hollywood outsider he was unproduced.

1947  --  brilliant testimony at the McCarthy hearings.

1947  --  he left the US.  But he could not get work in the west.

1949  --  he accepted the call to East Berlin. 

1949  --  even though she never had any formal acting training, Helene Weigel played the title role in Brecht's production of his Mother Courage.  It toured both East and West Europe. 

Together with Helene Weigel, he founded the Berliner Ensemble.  Helen headed the organization from its inception until her death.  Barbara Brecht-Schall worked at the Berliner Ensemble as an assistant costume designer and an actress. 

1950  --  Kthe Reichel (1926-) joined the Berliner Ensemble.  Under Brecht's tutelage she played leading parts and soon became his lover. 

1950  --  Peter Palitzsch (1918-2004) came to the Berliner Ensemble as Brecht's assistant.  He became head dramaturg and also directed.

1951  --  Manfred Werkwerth (1929-) started as Brecht's assistant director.

1956  --  death of Brecht. 

1977  --  Wolfgang Harich was sentenced by the highest court in the German Democratic Republic to ten years in prison.

1961  --  Peter Palitzsch left East Berlin and became a distinguished artistic director in West Germany. 

1973  --  death of Elisabeth Hauptmann. 

1977-1991  --  Manfred Werkwerth was the Berliner Ensemble's artistic director. 


Wolfgang Harich (1923-1995)  established himself in East Berlin as a brilliant, politically outspoken philosopher and theatre critic.  Brecht's assistants were required to study with him.  After his release from prison he continued his association with Helene Weigel and the Berliner Ensemble. 

Isot Kilian (1924-1986)  was married to Wolfgang Harich when she joined the Berliner Ensemble, where she excelled as a general organizer and artistic collaborator.  She was Brecht's last lover.  She later worked for DEFA, the East German film studio. 


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