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

Pasatiempo - - NEWS -

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

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