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DIRECTORS IN FOCUS
Stories from Another Realm: Films by Herbert Achternbusch

A prolific novelist, poet, dramatist, painter, and anarchist filmmaker from Bavaria, Herbert Achternbusch—despite the evidence of twenty-seven feature films he has made to date—remains the least known director from the New German Cinema, the movement that brought the work of Fassbinder, Wenders, Herzog, and others to international prominence. If he is known at all in the West it is perhaps as author of the story from which Werner Herzog derived his film Heart of Glass. The prodigious author of some thirty books, eighteen plays, and numerous radio dramas, Achternbusch claims to have taken up filmmaking because it hurt to sit after writing so much. To characterize Achternbusch’s work is not easy.

A short list of a few of his professed influences gives an indication: Jerry Lewis, John Ford, Charlie Chaplin, Kenji Mizoguchi, Yasujiro Ozu, and perhaps most important, Bavarian satirist of the Roaring Twenties, Karl Valentin. Situated in a no-man’s land between dream and reality, yet laced with references to actual events and to his own life, Achternbusch’s films comprise one of the most fiercely individualistic oeuvres in film history. "Resisting easy admiration or facile cubbyholing," as German film scholar Eric Rentschler explains, "Achternbusch remains New German Cinema’s most difficult and most direct filmmaker, an anarchist whose raw surrealism stems from a profound regard for the inextricable bonds between the public and the private."

Copresented by the Goethe-Institut Boston


April 27 (Friday) 7 pm

The Andechs Feeling (Das Andechser Gefühl)

Directed by Herbert Achternbusch
West Germany 1974, 16mm, color, 68 min.
With Herbert Achternbusch, Margarethe von Trotta, Barbara Gass
German with English subtitles

In Achternbusch’s first feature, an anxious teacher (played, as is the lead role in all his films, by the director) sits in a beer garden on the hill of the Andechs monastery. While flies drown in his mug of beer, he confronts a life of failure: the wife he ignored, the child he neglected, the teaching duties he has shirked, and his doomed efforts at winning tenure from school officials. Only a dream from the past—the memory of a former liaison with a film star with whom he shared "the Andechs feeling, a feeling that we are not alone"—provides sustenance. Despite an unexpected series of events, longing in Achternbusch’s world ultimately remains stronger than fulfillment and thirst better than beer.

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April 27 (Friday) 9 pm

The Comanche (Der Komantsche)

Directed by Herbert Achternbusch
West Germany 1979, 16mm, color, 84 min.
With Herbert Achternbusch, Annamirl Bierbichler, Heinz Braun
German with English subtitles

Achternbusch’s tragic comedy begins with the figure of the Comanche (Achternbusch) lying comatose in a large country sanatorium, where he is the last surviving patient. Refusing to wake up to a loveless world, the Comanche prefers his own dreams—filled with images of tropical Sri Lankan landscapes, elephants roaming the jungles, and smiling native girls—to life’s sad realities. His doctor manages to extract these dream images from his patient with a video unit, which the Comanche’s wife records and sells to television. After awakening, Achternbusch’s obstinate protagonist shifts (in a punning transformation) from comatose to Comanche and wanders Munich in full Indian regalia until, at last, the real world beckons him back onto the soccer field of the Olympic Stadium.

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April 28 (Saturday) 4 pm

Beer Battle (Bierkampf)

Directed by Herbert Achternbusch
West Germany 1976, 16mm, color, 85 min.
With Herbert Achternbusch, Annamirl Bierbichler, Sepp Bierbichler
German with English subtitles

On the surface, Beer Battle is a mad example of cinéma vérité. The camera observes an inebriated crowd of people at the Munich Oktoberfest as they react to the provocations of an impertinent individualist (again, played by the director). In one extended sequence, Achternbusch moves through rows of the intoxicants, swipes a hat, drinks from strangers’ mugs, flirts with women, and annoys people until he barely escapes the attacks of the guests and is forced to hide under a bench in front of the beer tent. As in much of the director’s work, the film interweaves private obsession and public experience, here appropriating the raucous annual event—a reveling mass of thousands that features sideshows, beer tents, and sundry other diversions—into a personal encounter he would later describe as "a kamikaze mission."


April 28 (Saturday) 7 pm

The Olympic-Winning Lady (Die Olympiasiegerin)

Directed by Herbert Achternbusch
West Germany 1983, 16mm, color, 107 min.
With Annamirl Bierbichler, Herbert Achternbusch, Gabi Geist
German with English subtitles

For all its madcap eccentricities, The Olympic-Winning Lady lays bares more autobiographical allusions than any other Achternbusch work. As in the film, his father was actually a dentist, his mother a sports instructor during the time of the Olympics (and the year of his conception), and he an illegitimate child who remained unadopted by his father until 1960. Nevertheless, realism and chronological order are quickly set aside as Herbert’s birth, although accurately placed in 1938, unfolds amidst howling sirens and the sounds of a bombing raid that took place well before the onset of the Second World War. What is important for Achternbusch are not the dates or the facts but the pervasive inner state of the country in which he grew up, whose destruction he experienced as a child.

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April 28 (Saturday) 9 pm

I Know the Way to the Hofbrauhaus

Directed by Herbert Achternbusch
Germany 1992, 16mm, color, 85 min.
With Herbert Achternbusch, Bettina Hauenschild, Veronika von Quast
German with English subtitles

One of his most spontaneous, light, yet nonetheless enigmatic comedies, I Know the Way to the Hofbrauhaus was shot without a script on Super-8mm as a silent film, with intertitles later inserted between scenes. What unfolds is a familiar Achternbusch tale in which the protagonist (here his alter-ego, Hick) is driven by a mad longing and becomes irretrievably lost. Unable to meet the demands of the workaday world, Hick wanders alone through the city and, as in many of Achternbusch’s films, enters an intermediate realm in which the dead interact with the living: he encounters and falls in love with a mummy, searches for an Egyptian queen, and stalks the inner regions of the hereafter, which lie in the middle of Munich.

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April 29 (Sunday) 7 pm

The Last Hole (Das letzte Loch)

Directed by Herbert Achternbusch
West Germany 1981, 16mm, b/w, 92 min.
With Herbert Achternbusch, Annamirl Bierbichler, Franz Baumgartner
German with English subtitles

A film of deep sadness and despair, and the director’s first film in black and white, The Last Hole is the mordant tale of a man haunted by the historic guilt of Germany who desperately tries to find redemption. Achternbusch portrays "der Nil" (The Nile), a flycatcher, beer drinker, and private detective from the Bavarian forest. "I am called ‘der Nil’ because I wander through the desert, wander through the desert and evaporate," says the man who drinks several liters of beer a day in an attempt to forget the murder of six million Jews by the nation to which he belongs. The only thing that drives him forward is the search for the love of his life, who is always—and can only be—called Susan.

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April 30 (Monday) 7 pm

Heal Hitler! (Heilt Hitler!)

Directed by Herbert Achternbusch
West Germany 1986, 16mm, color, 146 min.
With Gunter Freyse, Herbert Achternbusch, Gabi Geist
German with English subtitles

Stalingrad, 1942: just as he is complaining about the "blockheads" who are in control, a German named Herbert (Achternbusch) gets hit. Fast forward forty years after the war to Munich’s Hofgarten, where in front of the patched-up ruins of the Army Museum Herbert reappears, mistakenly believing he is still in Stalingrad, which the victorious Germans have destroyed and rebuilt in the image of Munich. While Achternbusch deploys such supernatural time shifting for comic ends, Heal Hitler! nonetheless casts a critical focus on the incurability of the sympathizers, as well as on those who dismiss National Socialism as a mere hiccup in German history and who Achternbusch ardently hopes "may lose the use of their eyes and ears."

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