Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe
STEFAN ZWEIG: FAREWELL TO EUROPE, biographical drama, not rated, in various languages with subtitles, Center for Contemporary Arts, 3 chiles
Nobody much reads Stefan Zweig any more. But in his heyday in the 1920s and ’30s, he was one of the world’s most famous authors. An Austrian Jew, he left Germany in 1934 with the rise of Hitler. After stopping briefly in England, he put an ocean between himself and the Nazi threat, going to South America, moving to New York, and eventually to Brazil. The movie, directed by German actress Maria Schrader (Aimeé &
Jaguar), unfolds in five episodes and an epilogue that span the last years of the writer’s life, between 1936 and 1942. The first, which takes place at a PEN conference in Buenos Aires, establishes the moral dilemma that dogs Zweig (a wonderful Josef Hader) in exile. Pressed by colleagues and journalists to use the pulpit of his enormous popularity to denounce Hitler, Zweig quietly and persistently refuses. To make such a statement from the safety of a distant continent, he maintains, would be an empty gesture, one “void of either risk or impact,” which would amount to “nothing but a cry for recognition.” A frustrated Jewish journalist puts it more succinctly: “He’s a coward.”
Zweig feels deeply his exile from the land of his birth, as he struggles to find a sense of place in the Americas with his young second wife Lotte (Aenne Schwarz). He follows with agony the disaster that is sweeping Europe, dreaming of a time beyond the nightmare when “passports and borders will one day be history.” Meanwhile, he does what he can to use his influence to help others escape the horrors. But as the demands escalate, he finds his enthusiasm dwindling. A chapter focusing on this struggle takes place in the New York apartment of his ex-wife Frederike (the great Barbara Sukowa), one of the refugees for whom he has been able to secure the necessary papers, who is now urging him to rededicate himself to the plight of the less fortunate.
But whether in the wintry bleakness of Manhattan or the lush paradise of Brazil, where he finally settles, Zweig is unable to shake his sense of isolation and estrangement. He is welcomed as a hero in his new country, but he finds little consolation in it. Standing with a German expatriate friend on his balcony and looking out over the Brazilian landscape, he admits to the despair of being safe thousands of miles from the suffering: “How can one bear it?” — Jonathan Richards
Yesterday’s world: Josef Hader