Wer früher stirbt: ‘Purgatory as Cabaret’

Love, Death, and Rock & Roll in a Quirky New Film Comedy by Markus Rosenmüller

Currently showing in Vienna is the enchanting and quirky comedy Wer früher stirbt, ist länger tot (If you die early, you’re dead longer), by German filmmaker Marcus H. Rosenmüller. Set in Upper Bavaria and played in nearly incomprehensible Bavarian accents, this comedy shows signs of fast becoming a cult film. It was also recently the big winner at the 28th annual Bavarian Film Awards, taking the best film and newcomer awards.

With much humour and depth, Wer früher stirbt finely weaves the themes of childhood, religion, love and death (and Rock n’ Roll) in a small village. With its eccentric characters and hilarious story line this film is a joy even if you can’t untangle every line.

It is easy to fall in love with the 11-year-old Sebastian Schneider (Markus Krojer) in the leading role, who embodies the joy of being young.  Sebastian lives with his widowed father Lorenz (Fritz Karl) and older brother Franz (Franz Xaver Brückner) in the local pub, the Wirt, and much of what unfolds we experience from his perspective – that is through the eyes of a child whose imagination is full of fantasy, who enjoys getting up to mischief yet is still charmingly naive and impressionable.

Riding around the village on his ‘easy rider’ style push-bike, Sebastian seems care free and uninhibited – until his brother lets it out one day that their mother died giving birth to him. Sebastian now starts to feel guilty about this, believing he has sinned and will face eternal damnation. So begins a series of hellish nightmares.

These outlandish and surreal adventures feature the Stammgäste – the eccentric group of men that are regular guests at the Wirt, and Sebastian’s companions for chats, confidences and the occasional slurp of beer.

Sebastian faces judgement from these characters in a purgatory which is presented like a bizarre form of cabaret with much fanfare, confusion and noise.

Rosenmüller captures life in all its facets in this Heimatfilm, offering us a grand story that is never kitsch or that never slips into cliché.  There is indeed a great hearty rawness to this film which comes from a combination of its rural setting, its themes of life and death, its naturalism and also from the fact that it is a black comedy that doesn’t strive to be politically correct. It is marvellously refreshing that we are not manipulated into passing moral judgement on the behaviour of the characters and at the same time never encouraged to patronise them.

In Wer früher stirbt Rosenmüller manages to create a charming fluidity and momentum between visual and narrative styles. Sebastian’s life in the village is presented with realism and simplicity, reflecting that childhood is a time to be free.

These scenes are strongly contrasted by his surreal nightmares which are played out in gaudy hues.  The illicit meeting between Sebastian’s father and the teacher in the forest is wonderfully atmospheric and mystical with a touch of  A Midsummer’s Night Dream about it.  In the brief flashback scenes of Sebastian’s mother we see her in soft focus; she is beautiful and joyful, basking in bright summer light.

Music clearly plays a very important and unifying role in the film, and links Sebastian with his past and his future. Alfred (Jurgen Tonkel), the eccentric DJ at the local radio station, is influential in helping Sebastian discover the ‘immortality’ of Rock n’ Roll.

In his stunning guitar performance at the end of the film, Sebastian lives out a dream and the village is captivated by the talents of their Lausbub.

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