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BERLIN — Joseph Vilsmaier, whose historical films such as “Comedian Harmonists,” “Brother of Sleep” and “Stalingrad” helped define 1990s German cinema, is heading back to the big screen with “Die Geschichte vom Brandner Kaspar” (“The Story of Brandner Kaspar”), a beloved Teutonic folk tale.

The classic fantasy story marks a dramatic turn to lighter fare following Vilsmaier’s last major feature, the harrowing Holocaust drama “The Last Train.” 

In the popular Bavarian yarn, written by Franz von Kobell in 1871, an energetic but elderly smith is visited by Death, but none too excited about heading off into the hereafter, the wily old coot gets Death drunk and challenges him to a card game, ultimately winning 18 more years of life. Tragedy soon befalls Kaspar, however, and he starts having second thoughts about remaining earthbound.

Franz Xaver Kroetz stars as Kaspar and multihyphenate funnyman Michael Herbig (“Dreamship Surprise: Period 1”) plays Death, known in Bavaria as “Boandlkramer.”

Pic, which began shooting earlier this month, is coproduced by Vilsmaier’s Perathon Film and Tele Muenchen Group’s Clasart Film and slated for a November 2008 release via Tele Muenchen’s Concorde Filmverleih.

The story of Brandner Kaspar was first produced for the stage in 1934 and remains a popular legit title. In 1949 Josef von Baky brought the story to the big screen in “Das Tor zum Paradies,” while Kurt Wilhelm helmed a TV adaptation, “Der Brandner Kaspar und das ewig’ Leben,” in 1975.