A Film a Week - Farewell / Abschied von den Eltern

previously published on Cineuropa
After a world premiere at Locarno, Farewell to the Parents has had its national premiere at the Viennale. The film is the debut feature by Austrian filmmaker, cinematographer, editor, photographer and philosopher Astrid Johanna Ofner. This essay-film co-written by Ofner and late Viennale director Hans Hurch is based on Peter Weiss’ autobiographical novel Abschied von den Eltern and feels more like a book-reading accompanied by visual art than a regular narrative film experience.
Weiss’ novel covers his youthful years in the period between the two world wars in different European countries. Even though Weiss was half-Jewish, he does not dwell on the topic of the rise of fascism and national socialism for too long, as some might expect, since his battles lay somewhere else. Through his journeys in different countries, studies, different jobs and interests, he fought for his personal freedom and independence from his parents: his industrialist father travelling from country to country seeking business opportunities in times of economic crisis, and his former actress mother striving to keep the family together. Young Peter wanted something quite different from the life his parents had chosen for him: he wanted to find the meaning of life, love and art, and to pursue his talents for writing and painting. He succeeded in the end, but his novel, and Ofner’s film, is only about the first steps he took in that direction.
Astrid Johanna Ofner’s approach suits Weiss’ novel well. Actor Sven Dolinsky reads the text as Peter-the-Narrator and plays the part of Peter-the-Character wordlessly. The visual material in the background during the novel passages consists of archive footage, Weiss’ own early experimental films and new material filmed by Ofner on a variety of cameras and formats, from Super 8 to HD 4K, on location in Great Britain, Germany, Sweden and the Czech Republic, keeping it as faithful as possible to the real places portrayed in the novel. Her main goal was to preserve the coherence of the source material while finding the right rhythm and the right images for Weiss’ sentences. Sometimes, the narration is accompanied only by darkness, highlighting the strength of words themselves, while Ofner’s decision to modernise the context at times stresses the timelessness of Weiss’ work and the importance of gaining independence from the will of one’s parents as an integral part of growing up. As Ofner’s reading of Weiss and his work, Farewell to the Parents is not just legitimate; it’s actually quite good.

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