Vor der Morgenröte [Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe] (2016)

Vor der Morgenröte
Director: Maria Schrader
Writer: Maria Schrader, Jan Schomburg
Cast: Josef Hader, Aenne SchwarzBarbara SukowaMatthias BrandtCharly HübnerTómas LemarquisLenn KudrjawizkiHarvey FriedmanNicolau BreynerIvan ShvedoffAndré SzymanskiValerie PachnerDaniel Puente Encina
Seen on: 16.6.2016

Plot:
Stefan Zweig (Josef Hader) is a successful writer of wide renown. As an Austrian Jew, he decided to leave Europe behind after Hitler’s rise to power and now lives in Brazil with his wife Lotte (Aenne Schwarz). But the political situation in Europe follows him even into his exile, as people all seem to expect something of him, a statement, taking position, outright help – and Zweig really doesn’t know how to handle this pressure as his attempts to distance himself from everything continue to fail.

Vor der Morgenröte captures an awkward, uncomfortable atmosphere perfectly and tells a World War 2 story from a perspective that is unusual, and definitely fascinating.

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Vor der Morgenröte is a calm film without many of the frills we are used to in films – from music to quick editing, which is a successful strategy to communicate the oppressive feeling that Zweig must have felt while in his exile. You can almost feel the Brazilian heat yourself, but even more so you can feel the constant pressure on Zweig to speak up. That pressure is uncomfortable, to say the least, but at the same time, you very much wish that he would say something, basically adding to the pressure you’re feeling yourself.

That the film pretty much throws you into cold water and leaves you without much orientation only adds to the atmosphere. I don’t know much about Zweig and his life and the people that surrounded him, and the film doesn’t bother itself with many explanations. We get to see six scenes of his life with different people in them. Sometimes it is clear who these people are – his wife, his ex-wife (Barbara Sukowa) – and how he came to be in those situations, but most of the time we get little to no context. A bit more of that wouldn’t have hurt, but I didn’t mind it as it also echoes Zweig’s refusal to speak clearly. Maybe there was no way to speak clearly.

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Hader was the perfect choice to play Zweig. So far he has mostly stuck to tragic-comic material, but you wouldn’t notice that from watching him here. Zweig’s conflictedness, his depression, his frustration, his anger – they become palpable in Hader’s performance.

The cinematography often works with stationary shots that never seem to focus on the central issue. We see a long shot in the beginning of a table being prepared for guests with much attention to detail, but when the preparations are done and the guest come in – with Zweig at the center, he almost feels misplaced, despite being the guest of honor at the banquet and the protagonist of the film. Maybe it isn’t about Zweig at all, then. He is the vehicle of the story, sure. But isn’t the story about something else – something that is as current in 1940 as it is today?

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Summarizing: Watch it.

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