Why You Should Watch Maria Schrader’s Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe

Well, we live in uncertain times. Uncertain not because we won’t know where our next meal is coming from or even what President will come next after Obama — not uncertain in those terms. But uncertain as to how our peace and general stability will maintain over the next few years.

In these times, I always look to cinema to find within its stories, some answers. And this year’s Austrian entry to the Foreign Language Academy Awards race is exactly what I needed. Maria Schrader’s Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe is beautiful to behold, poetic, and holds up a mirror as to how we all feel at this very moment. A bit like exiles in our country.

So, here is the trailer for the film, and a teaser to the interview I conducted with Ms. Schrader over the internet. She is now definitely my new girl crush!

Stefan Zweig, Farewell to Europe – Trailer from Films Distribution on Vimeo.

It’s a leitmotif I notice throughout history, the moderate and peace-seeking are those most often attacked. Stefan Zweig was no exception. Why do you think this is?

Maria Schrader: The monstrosity of German fascism, maybe any kind of radicalism seem to demand opponents and critical voices who are no less radical. But how to put a humanistic and peace-seeking stand in equally loud words? You need a fine brush to paint a nuanced picture.

For a long time Stefan Zweig refused to condemn Hitler’s Germany. He was accused of cowardice, but that accusation falls short. Behind Zweig’s position there is a greater, more fundamental point of view. He describes a pacifist’s concept when he declares: “I cannot attack. I will not write out of hatred. When my silence is a sign of weakness, I fear I must live with that stigma.”

You’ve explained within the press kit your intellectual reasons for choosing to portray Zweig in your film, instead of other writers in a similar predicament before WWII. But I’m more interested in the emotional spark, what made you think, “I’ve got to make this film!” about him?

Schrader: There is something mysterious and unpredictable about those moments of decision, as if a door opens. We’d been researching for weeks before the first bits of the movie evoked in my phantasy. I was fascinated by the image of Stefan Zweig, this intellectual, European, urban and world famous figure standing in the midst of endless tropical vegetation, as beautiful as fierce. The difficulty of being torn between two worlds, the contradiction of having a paradise in front of his eyes and — at the same time — being permanently haunted by the ferocious pictures of what was going on in Europe, was a crucial part of his life in exile and is probably something every exile has to cope with. At the same time I was intrigued by the cinematic challenge of combining visible and invisible images. We all are able to share his brutal phantasies. I was intrigued by the idea of making a movie about the war, about Europe without being there, without actually filming it…

Read the entire interview and my thoughts on the film on the Huffington Post.

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