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BERLINALE 2024 Competition

Review: Dying

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- BERLINALE 2024: Matthias Glasner’s latest offering is a winning combination of pitch-black humour and warm human drama

Review: Dying
Corinna Harfouch and Lars Eidinger in Dying

Matthias Glasner’s new film, Dying [+see also:
interview: Matthias Glasner
film profile
]
, unspooling in competition at the 74th Berlinale, is much more than what its title suggests. It’s just as much about existing as it is about passing away, and the focus is on four characters – terminally ill parents and their grown-up children – and the choices they have made, are making or can’t make any more. It sounds gloomy, but the seriousness is compensated for by a dark sense of humour – one that actually makes you ask yourself if you are allowed to laugh – and by the immense empathy that Glasner shows for his protagonists.

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In both his writing and his directing, Glasner adopts a standpoint of curiosity and acceptance; he looks at all of his characters like a loving parent who is also aware that, in the end, every grown-up is responsible for their own choices. The film is three hours long, but this time flies by because of how neatly the story is organised.

It’s divided into chapters, some of them focused on the lives of the four members of the Lunies family, others on themes like love. In his writing, Glasner uses the Chekhov’s gun principle, whereby all of the important nuggets of information from the early parts of the story reverberate later on. When Tom Lunies (the wonderful Lars Eidinger), a conductor, tells his orchestra that a piece of music called “Dying” should have a humble beginning in order to “earn pathos” later on, it’s clear that the film will follow exactly the same emotional course.

This type of structure allows Glasner to afford a lot of space to his characters, offer them long dialogue scenes, and let them meander through bars and streets without losing focus. The film starts off with Gerd Lunies (Hans-Uwe Bauer), who has fast-deteriorating dementia, and his terminally ill wife, Lissy (Corinna Harfouch); we see the daily lives of elderly people who are not close to their grown-up children, and who are only able to rely on their neighbour, with little money given to them by the state. As the story progresses, we learn why they and their kids, Tom and Ellen (the hypnotising Lilith Stangenberg), are not a tight-knit family. Some of the information is dished out directly, while some can be figured out from how the characters act or how they talk to each other.

Over time, it becomes clear what issues the kids have and how this has shaped their lives. Tom is overly responsible for others – for example, his ex, who has asked him to be a father to a child she is having with someone else, or a composer friend who has an “erotic relationship with death” and who wrote “Dying”, which Tom is conducting. Ellen, meanwhile, is a free spirit and a party girl on the outside, but someone deeply lonely and wounded inside. She is addicted to alcohol, and by drinking too much, she is in fact slowly killing herself. In some of the scenes, she actually walks much like a zombie, as if she were already beyond the veil.

The humble beginnings of the story give way to pathos and questions about the point of living – or, rather, slowly dying – this way. Overall, Glasner’s film is dense, provides food for thought and is worth the three hours of your life that it asks of you. It was produced by Germany’s Port-Au-Prince Pictures GmbH, Schwarzweiss-Filmproduktion and Senator Film Produktion. The Match Factory handles its world sales.

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Photogallery 21/02/2024: Berlinale 2024 - Matthias Glasner

11 pictures available. Swipe left or right to see them all.

Matthias Glasner
© 2024 Dario Caruso for Cineuropa - dario-caruso.fr, @studio.photo.dar, Dario Caruso

Photogallery 19/02/2024: Berlinale 2024 - Dying

12 pictures available. Swipe left or right to see them all.

Lilith Stangenberg, Lars Eidinger, Corinna Harfouch, Ronald Zehrfeld, Matthias Glasner
© 2024 Dario Caruso for Cineuropa - dario-caruso.fr, @studio.photo.dar, Dario Caruso

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