Opening 13 Sep 2018
Writing credits: Joachim Lang
Principal actors: Lars Eidinger, Tobias Moretti, Britta Hammelstein, Hannah Herzsprung, Joachim Król
Germans Bertolt Brecht and Elizabeth Hauptmann wrote The Three Penny Opera which was first performed in Berlin on August 31, 1928. The music, which is still extremely popular today, was by German composer Kurt Weill. They drew from (or even copied) the ideas from a previous production called The Beggar’s Opera by John Gay which first came out in 1728. Later, Brecht decided to film his creation; silent movies had just changed to movies with sound, and filming an “opera” seemed like a good next step.
This new film from 2018 reveals the attempted production of the Brecht film, including all of Brecht’s problems trying to convince his producer Seymour Nebenzahl (Godehard Giese) that his version is the way to go. Nebenzahl holds the purse strings and wants the film to adhere to what he believes is expected by the general public, i.e., no criticism of the present political situation (capitalism), no comparisons between rich and poor, and no references to Nazi Germany just hovering on the horizon.
In the role of Brecht Lars Edinger wears a leather jacket and glasses while clinching a cigar between his teeth; all of his text is original Brecht commentary, such as “putting more words together is not art.” Between discussions, the action flashes back to the actual Three Penny Opera film in the making. We get the whole story of the thief Macheath (Tobias Moretti) whose life is divided between a whorehouse, including his old girlfriend, a prostitute named Jenny (Britta Hammelstein), and his “marriage” to Polly (Hannah Herzsprung), the daughter of rich Peachum (Joachim Król) and his wife (Claudia Michelson). Peachum’s “business” is to encourage beggars, who collect money on the streets of London; in other words, Peachum “pockets capital from the wretched.” We experience the interaction between Brecht and Weill (Robert Stadlober), as well as the police president Tiger Brow (Christian Redl). Brecht’s vision/version of The Three Penny Opera film never happens. Instead, another version by George Wilheim Pabst opens in 1931.
Anyone who can understand at least some German must see this film. I think I’ve never seen so many top German actors together for 130 minutes, as well as dancing, singing, beautiful costumes, discussions about art and life of the times. Even if you knew nothing to begin with, you will leave the cinema much richer with the urge to research more of the history, while singing “see the shark with teeth like razors.” (Becky Tan)