Paris-based Films Distribution has clinched a bevy of pre-sales on “Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe,” one of the high-profile European titles bowing on the Locarno Festival’s Piazza Grande, the gathering’s biggest platform for licensing deals on more accessible arthouse fare as well as occasional mainstream titles, such as this year’s “Jason Bourne.”
The second feature as a director for German actress-turned-helmer Maria Schrader, “Stefan Zweig” charts the years in exile of Stefan Zweig, an Austrian Jewish novelist who at the time of the film – 1936 to 1942 – rated with Thomas Mann as the most-read German-language writer in the world.
In all-rights deals, Films Distribution has licensed Spain (Caramel Films), Brazil (Esfera Culturas), Denmark (Camera Film), Greece (Videorama), Portugal (Alambique), Hungary (Mozinet) and the countries of the former Yugoslavia (MCF Megacom). Further territories are under negotiation.
Of distribution pacts struck by the films’ producers, “Stefan Zweig: A Farewell to Europe” will open in France via ARP Selection, one of the country’s foremost arthouse distributors, on Aug. 10. It was released in Austria (via Filmladen) on July 15 and Germany, with X-Verleigh distributing, five days later, earning a robust two-country €1.79 million ($2.0 million) through July 31.
Set between Brazil, Buenos Aires and New York, and written by Schrader and Jan Schomburg, “Stefan Zweig” kicks off as Zweig arrives in Brazil in 1936, his books banned by Hitler’s National Socialists back in Germany. Struck by the country, he nurtures the illusion, expressed at a sumptuous banquet, that Brazil could be the answer to “the most simple and vital question of all: a peaceful co-existence in today’s world, despite all our differences of race, class and religion.”
He refuses to denounce Nazi Germany’s war-mongering at a 1936 PEN Club Conference in Buenos Aires because, he argues, it was too easy an option, had little effect, and he would not condemn a whole country. But he battles to help fellow Jews secure visas to settle in Brazil and the U.S. As a pacifist, he struggles to find the right intellectual reply to Nazi Germany, remains fascinated by the beauty of Brazil, and despairs as Europe tears itself apart.
Zweig’s tragedy was his being a “highly sensitive master of all the different shades of gray” living at a time “in which only black and white existed,” Schrader told DW.
While “a biopic to some extent,” “more than that, it is the story of how, when horrible things are happening somewhere around the world, no one is innocent — we all have to feel responsible,” said Nicolas Brigaud Robert, a Films Distribution partner.
He added: ”Everyone can understand how contemporary this theme is in a terrorist-torn world.”
Zweig was in some ways ahead of his time, dreaming of a Europe without borders, though he didn’t expect it in his lifetime. That and the film’s central theme of displacement also give the film a sense of contemporaneity.
“Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe” has garnered some rave reviews in Germany, with Spiegel calling it “acute, disturbing and absolutely current.”
Director Schrader is best known as an actress for her roles in “Aimee and Jaguar,” which won her a Berlin Silver Bear, and in “Deutschland 83,” where she plays Martin Rauch’s aunt.
“Stefan Zweig” is lead-produced by X-Filme Creative Pool, one of Berlin’s preeminent production houses. Ideale Audience, Dor Film and Maha Productions co-produce, along with France’s Arte Cinema France, the production arm of upscale free-to-air Franco-German broadcaster Arte.