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June 3 - 22, 2005

Matters of Life and Death: The Films of Bruno Ganz

The quintessential European actor, Bruno Ganz has crafted a large and impressive body of work in productions that span the continent. Born to a Swiss father and an Italian mother, Ganz made a name for himself early in his career working in the German theater, and became a familiar face on German television throughout the 1960s. His performance in Eric Rohmer's Marquise of O established him as a major international screen presence. Working with such directors of the new German cinema as Wim Wenders, Werner Herzog, and Volker Schlöndorff, as well as acclaimed European directors Alain Tanner and Theo Angelopoulos, Ganz quickly became one of the most sought after performers in European cinema. If there is a consistent strand that follows Ganz through these various collaborations, it is the examination of mortality in worlds whose inhabitants don't possess the idealized qualities of more conventional narrative films, but rather struggle with very human limitations. Whether portraying an angel in doubt, a dictator in decline, or simply himself, Ganz strikes a delicate balance revealing the pain of these struggles and his empathic wit and warmth.

This program is co-presented with the SHARE/Consulate of Switzerland in Boston and the Goethe Institut, Boston. Special thanks to SwissFilms, Newmarket Films, and New Yorker Films.

June 3 (Friday) 8 pm

Downfall (Der Untergang)

Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel
Germany/Italy/Austria, 2004, color, 156 min.
With Bruno Ganz, Alexandra Maria Lara, Juliane Köhler
German and Russian with English subtitles

The first German film to broach the subject of Adolf Hitler's life in almost fifty years chronicles the final days in the life of the Führer. As Berlin burns to the ground, Hitler and his closest confidants, including his mistress Eva Braun (Köhler) and his advisor Joseph Goebbels, remain confined to the rooms of the infamous bunker. Downfall is based on the transcripts of Traudl Junge (Lara), the former secretary who escaped the bunker and would go on to give her own account of Hitler's life in the acclaimed documentary Blind Spot. The film presents an un-sensationalized portrait of these consequential final hours, and Ganz gives an outstanding performance, adding a human dimension to one of the most despised figures in history.

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June 4 (Saturday) 7 pm
June 5 (Sunday) 9 pm

Behind Me

Directed by Norbert Wiedmer
Switzerland/Germany, 2002, b/w and color, 85 min.
German and Italian with English Subtitles

Ganz teamed up with veteran documentary filmmaker Norbert Wiedmer to create this touching portrait/diary film that follows the actor as he travels across Europe playing Faust, a stage role with which he has become singularly identified. Ganz is remarkably candid on screen, talking about his life as well as reflecting on his acting career and his methods of work. The collaboration between filmmaker and filmed subject (Ganz actually shot part of the film himself) captures the playfulness and constant self-interrogation that seems to define Ganz both as an artist and as a man.

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June 4 (Saturday) 9 pm
June 5 (Sunday) 7 pm

Marquise of O

Directed by Eric Rohmer
West Germany/ France, 1975, color, 102 min.
With Edith Clever, Bruno Ganz, Peter Lühr
German with English subtitles

In one of his first major roles in the cinema, Ganz co-starred with Edith Clever in this brilliant adaptation of Heinrich von Kleist's classic novella. During the early 18th century, the Marquise of O (Clever), a widow with two children, is raped by an officer from the invading Russian army, Count F (Ganz). Discovering that she is pregnant, the Marquise confronts her assailant and demands that he marry her. The film features striking camerawork by Nestor Almendros, who based much of the film's look on the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich.

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June 6 (Monday) 7 pm
June 7 (Tuesday) 9 pm

The American Friend (Der Amerikanische Freund)

Directed by Wim Wenders
West Germany /France, 1976, color, 127 min.
With Dennis Hopper, Bruno Ganz, Lisa Kreuzer
English and German with English subtitles


International intrigue, art and homicide, and film and contemporary culture form the matrix of themes that underpin Wenders's brilliant quasi-thriller, loosely adapted from Patricia Highsmith's novel Ripley's Game. A terminally ill picture framer in Hamburg (Ganz) reluctantly agrees to become a hit man to ensure the future of his soon-to-be widow (Kreuzer). Duplicity and ambiguity reign as he crosses paths with double-crossing killers (including filmmaker Sam Fuller) and shady American art dealer Tom Ripley, played by Dennis Hopper in cowboy gear.

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June 6 (Monday) 9:15 pm
June 7 (Tuesday) 7 pm

Knife in the Head (Messer im Kopf)

Directed by Reinhard Hauff
West Germany, 1978, color, 108 min.
With Bruno Ganz, Angela Winkler, Heinz Hoenig
German with English subtitles

Scientist Dr. Berthold Hoffmann (Ganz) is shot in the head while trying to pick up his wife from a political rally. During a long recovery process, he must learn how to walk, talk, speak, and eat again. But his travails are not over: the police, in an attempt to cover up their mistake, brand him a terrorist, while Volker (Hoenig), a left-wing activist and lover of the doctor's wife, wants to use Hoffman's case for political propaganda by labeling him a "victim of police terror." Buffeted between these forces, Hoffmann becomes a symbol of the German people of the time, paralyzed by the politics of the era and desperate to create themselves anew.

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June 8 (Wednesday) 7 pm
June 10 (Friday) 9 pm

The Left-Handed Woman (Die Linkshändige Frau)

Directed by Peter Handke
West Germany, 1977, color, 119 min.
With Bruno Ganz, Edith Clever, Gèrard Depardieu
German with English subtitles

A woman living in the Paris suburbs struggles with a loveless marriage and apathy toward her family and friends, spending her days quietly wandering about her house. Austrian playwright and novelist Peter Handke wrote screenplays for a number of films directed by Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire, The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick). Here, Wenders acts as producer while Handke provides both the scenarioóan adaptation of his novel of the same nameóand direction for this meditative examination of domestic ennui.

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June 8 (Wednesday) 9:15 pm
June 10 (Friday) 7 pm


Directed by Werner Herzog
West Germany/France, 1978, color, 107 min.
With Bruno Ganz, Klaus Kinski, Isabelle Adjani
German with English subtitles

Werner Herzog's rendering of the vampire legend remakes what he called 'the most important film ever made in Germany.' Owing its ambition (rather than aesthetic) to the 1922 F.W. Murnau classic, Herzog minimizes dialogue and formalizes acting to create a counterpart to the narrative's descent into doom. Luminous cinematography contributes to the overall uneasiness, as does a soundtrack replete with creepy atmospherics and effects. More Gothic romance than horror film, Herzog's foray into Dracula territory represents an ambitious experiment in historical recreation and style.

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June 11 (Saturday) 7 pm
June 14 (Tuesday) 9 pm

In the White City (Dans La Ville Blanche)

Directed by Alain Tanner
Switzerland/Portugal/UK, 1983, color, 108 min.
With Bruno Ganz, Teresa Madruga, Francisco Baiao
French with English subtitles

Alain Tanner's In The White City is a haunting work that follows a disconnected sailor who decides to jump ship in Lisbon. Ganz plays the Swiss sailor, who suddenly finds himself absorbed by the ghostly 'white city' on the edge of the Atlantic. He wanders the city's streets and alleys, shooting Super-8 films that he sends to his wife back in Switzerland as explanations of the daily occurrences of his life. A marvelous jazz score by Jean-Luc Barbier provides the perfect complement to Tanner's freewheeling visual style.

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June 11 (Saturday) 9 pm
June 13 (Monday) 7 pm

The Inventor (Der Erfinder)

Directed by Kurt Gloor
Switzerland, 1980, color, 100 min.
With Bruno Ganz, Walo Lüönd, Verena Peter
German with English subtitles

Jakob (Ganz) is an obsessive inventor who lives in a Swiss village in the early years of the twentieth century. With the exception of his friend Otti (Lüönd), who is convinced that Jakob is a genius, most of his neighbors dismiss him as a harmless eccentric who loves to patch together odd bits. One day, he decides to invent a cart that would run not on roads but rather on its own treads, a development that could revolutionize the local farming industry. Director Kurt Gloor, who gained acclaim for his documentary work examining the social divides in Swiss society, constructs a compelling character who feels bound to provide a service to a world which has no use for him.

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June 12 (Sunday) 7 pm

The Boys from Brazil

Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner
UK/US, 1978, color, 123 min.
With Gregory Peck, Laurence Olivier, James Mason

As a geneticist who explains the principles of cloning to a Nazi hunter (Olivier) trying to unravel an international mystery, Ganz steals his scenes in this fast-moving conspiracy thriller. Alongside an illustrious cast that also includes Gregory Peck and James Mason, Ganz makes a brief but memorable appearance. As the film travels from the jungles and villages of South America to the suburbs of Western Massachusetts, Ganz's scene provides a moment of calm, rational scientific explanation that helps expose the fiendish plot of a gang of war criminals.

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June 13 (Monday) 9 pm
June 14 (Tuesday) 7 pm

Circle of Deceit (Die Fälschung)

Directed by Volker Schlöndorff
France/West Germany, 1981, color, 104 min.
With Bruno Ganz, Hanna Schygulla, Jerzy Skolimowski
English, German and French with English subtitles

Georg Laschen (Ganz), a West German journalist, and Hoffman (Skolimowski), a world-weary photographer, are sent to cover the civil war in Lebanon. Looking to forget about his troubled marriage, Laschen immerses himself in the conflict and rekindles a relationship with an old friend (Schygulla) whose husband has been killed. Shot in Lebanon under extremely dangerous conditions, the film stands as an extraordinary accomplishment in the way it reveals the new types of warfare emerging in the world close-up, conflicts that journalists like Laschen and Hoffmann were unaccustomed to covering.

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June 15 (Wednesday) 7 pm

Wings of Desire (Der Himmel über Berlin)

Directed by Wim Wenders
West Germany/France, 1987, b/w and color, 127 min.
With Bruno Ganz, Solveig Dommartin, Otto Sander
English, German and French with English subtitles

Inspired by a poem from Rilke and co-written by acclaimed Austrian playwright Peter Handke, Wings of Desire follows a pair of angels who descend to earth to eavesdrop on the lonely, melancholy inhabitants of the streets and buildings of pre-unification Berlin. Aided by the haunting, mostly monochromatic images of veteran cinematographer Henri Alekan, Wenders creates a spiritual documentary of the city and a haunting portrait of what it means to be human. He earned a Best Director award at Cannes for this meditative work, aptly dedicated to three of his own cinematic "angels": Ozu, Truffaut, and Tarkovsky.

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June 15 (Wednesday) 9:15 pm

Faraway, So Close! (In weiter Ferne, so nah!)

Directed by Wim Wenders
Germany, 1993, b/w and color, 140 min.
With Otto Sander, Bruno Ganz, Nastassja Kinski
English, German and French with English subtitles

In this continuation of Wings of Desire, director Wim Wenders turns his attention to the angel Cassiel (Sander) who follows his former celestial companion Damiel (Ganz), now settled into a comfortable domestic life, into the world of mortality. Instead of romance, Cassiel finds himself mixed up in a caper plot with a dark angel played by Willem Dafoe. Wenders's powerful vision of post-Cold War Berlin features an outstanding soundtrack with contributions from Nick Cave, U2, Lou Reed (who also appears in the film), and Johnny Cash, as well as an odd cameo by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

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June 17 (Friday) 7 pm
June 19 (Sunday) 9 pm

Eternity and a Day (Mia anioniotita kai mia mera)

Directed by Theo Angelopoulos
Greece/France/Italy, 1998, color, 132 min.
With Bruno Ganz, Isabelle Renauld, Achieleas Skevis
Greek with English Subtitles

The famous Greek poet Alexandre (Ganz) is dying and mourns his alienated relationship with his daughter and late wife. When he meets an Albanian immigrant boy on the street who desperately wants to return home, he discovers an opportunity to avoid the difficult process of planning for his death as well as the chance to realize the ideas long-gestating in an unfinished poem. Ganz took over the role originally designed for the late Marcello Mastroianni, and conveys a warmth and melancholy which suitably complements Angelopoulos' striking, humane vision of the world.

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June 17 (Friday) 9:15 pm
June 19 (Sunday) 7 pm

Truth and Lies (La forza del passato)

Directed by Piergiogio Gay
Italy, 2002, color, 98 min.
With Sergio Rubini, Bruno Ganz, Sandra Ceccarelli
Italian with English subtitles

Based on the well-loved novel by Sandro Veronesi The Power of the Past, the film tells the story of children's book author Giovanni Orzan (Rubini). One day, he is visited by Gianni Bogliasco (Ganz), a man who claims to be an old friend of Giovanni's recently deceased father. He also reveals that Orzan's father was not an Italian general, but a Russian-born agent of the KGB who murdered an Italian official and assumed his victim's identity. Rubini and Ganz are inspired in their impassioned exchanges, as each character tries to gain the upper hand in a battle of the wills.

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June 18 (Saturday) 7 pm
June 20 (Monday) 9 pm

Bread and Tulips (Pane e Tulipani)

Directed by Silvio Soldini
Italy/Switzerland, 2000, color, 114 min.
With Licia Maglietta, Bruno Ganz, Giuseppe Battison
Italian with English subtitles

One of the most beloved works of recent Italian cinema, the film begins when Rosabla, played marvelously by Maglietta, is left behind at a highway rest stop while on a vacation trip. Rather than figure out a way home, she decides to go off by herself and visit Venice. Soon after arriving, she falls in with a ragtag group of loners and eccentrics including Fernando (Ganz), a suicidal Icelandic waiter with whom she starts an affair. Soldini offers a poignant and humorous view of the complications of finding romance among characters who believe that life has passed them by.

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June 18 (Saturday) 9 pm
June 20 (Monday) 7 pm

Epstein's Night

Directed by Urs Egger
Germany/Austria/Switzerland, 2002, color, 85 min.
With Mario Adorf, Otto Tausig, Bruno Ganz
German with English subtitles

A concentration camp survivor (Adorf), recently released from prison after serving a sentence for murder, discovers that one of his tormentors is serving as a priest in his community. Together with two fellow survivors (Tausig and Ganz), he confronts this figure from his haunted past. Swiss filmmaker Urs Egger presents a very human drama which confronts the complicated moral issues in his characters' lives.

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June 21 (Tuesday) 7 pm
June 22 (Wednesday) 9 pm

The Last Days of Chez Nous

Directed by Gilliam Armstrong
Australia, 1992, color, 93 min.
With Lisa Harrow, Bruno Ganz, Kerry Fox

Beth (Harrow), a middle-aged writer, struggles with her slowly crumbling marriage to JP (Ganz) and her unresolved relationship with her father (Bill Hunter). When she and JP decide to take a boarder in their home and Beth's sister arrives for an extended visit, the quiet emotional strife in their lives is forced to the surface. Although generally regarded as a feminist filmmaker, director Gillian Armstrong (My Brilliant Career) proves adept at portraying all sides of this honest family drama.

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June 21 (Tuesday) 9 pm
June 22 (Wednesday) 7 pm


Directed by David Hare
UK, 1989, color, 99 min.
With Blair Brown, Bruno Ganz, Bridget Fonda

Blair Brown stars as an American doctor practicing in London, driven by her strong belief in the British health care system. Her routine existence is challenged by the arrival of her sister (Fonda), a free-spirit who dreams of becoming a fashion designer, as well as a mysterious millionaire (Ganz) whom she meets on vacation in Portugal. Just as she gives herself over to romance, her lover disappears, leaving behind an unsettling revelations about his past. Noted writer David Hare (The Hours) strikes an appropriate balance between cynicism and sentiment in this modern, middle-age melodrama.

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