MOIN Filmförderung Hamburg Schlwesig-Holstein

The normal family madness

19.02.2024 | World premiere @Berlinale 2024

Ellen (Lilith Stangenberg) lives in Hamburg in the film "Sterben" / All stills: © Jakub Bejnarowicz / Port au Prince, black and white, Senator

A family drama about dying - sounds like pretty heavy fare at first. But Matthias Glasner's new film is bursting with bizarre, often comical, but also deeply touching scenes. A star-studded work with Lars Eidinger, Corinna Harfourch and Lilith Stangenberg, which was filmed in Hamburg and elsewhere and is now celebrating its world premiere in the Berlinale Competition.

Filmmaker Matthias Glasner actually wanted to become a conductor. Just like Tom, one of the main characters in his new film "Dying". The fact that things turned out differently is quite a stroke of luck for this year's Berlinale audience. With "Sterben", the Director and Script Writer has sent a three-hour film into the race for the Golden Bear that never feels like three hours. Laughing, crying, sinking thoughtfully into the cinema seat - this film has it all. Glasner wrote the first version of the screenplay in just two months: "I had just become a father and simply couldn't sleep. I then sat down in a shabby coffee shop under my flat for around three hours every day to take a deep breath and have some time for myself. And for me, 'time for myself' usually means Work," says the Hamburg native and laughs. He simply started writing without knowing where the process would take him.    

Lars Eidinger in Nahaufnahme

Dying" is about the Lunies family, who have long since lost their inner cohesion. Lissy Lunies, in her mid-70s, is secretly happy that her slowly wasting, demented husband Gerd is going into a home - but she herself doesn't have long to live due to various illnesses. Meanwhile, her son, the conductor Tom, is working on a composition called "Dying" with his depressive best friend Bernard. His sister Ellen begins an affair with a married dentist - both share a love of alcohol and intoxication. Confronted with death, the family members meet again.

In other words, the normal family madness - although much of the film is autobiographical: "It's the story of a family that never actually meets, whose lives have nothing to do with each other. It was the same for me. So I knew exactly what I was writing about. The fate of the sick parents is also modelled on that of my parents. We even filmed in Hanstedt in the same neighbourhood where they lived. And the home the father goes to is exactly the same home my father was in before he died," Glasner reveals.

Another parallel to his life: The music. The piece "Sterben", which conductor Tom and composer Bernard write together in the film, was written by Glasner in real life together with composer Lorenz Dangel. The two had previously worked together on other film projects such as "Landgericht" and "Blochin", but wanted to go one step further for "Sterben". It took around two years to complete the film. "I wanted to show in the film how art is created. All the self-doubt and magical moments - from failed rehearsals to the emotional premiere - all of that can now be seen in the film," says the 59-year-old.

Porträtfoto Matthias Glasner
Director Matthias Glasner

Last winter, "Sterben" was filmed for around three weeks in Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein, among other places. The main locations included the area around Hamburg's main railway station (St. Georg), Altona and the Hamburg neighbourhood. "As I grew up in Hamburg, I already had a concrete idea of the places I wanted to include in the film. Protagonist Ellen has a punk understanding of life, and I wanted to show that in the film," says the Director. It was important for him to be able to tell the story of the locations authentically. And that was exactly what was possible in the Hanseatic city thanks to his local knowledge. The urban and somewhat dirtier corners of the city found their way into the film. Even the oldest dental practice in Germany, which can be found on the Kiez, makes a guest appearance in the film.

Another highlight of "Sterben" is definitely the cast. Matthias Glasner has somehow managed to include many of today's greatest German actors in his film. Among them are Lars Eidinger, Corinna Harfourch, Lilith Stangenberg, Saskia Rosendahl, Robert Gwisdek, Roland Zehrfeld and Anna Bederke. And you can really say: every role fits. If you ask Matthias Glasner about his favourite scene in the film, he can still answer quickly: "There's a long discussion between Lissy Lunies and her son Tom in the film. And what Corinna Harfourch and Lars Eidinger delivered there is truly incredible. 25 minutes, two cameras, one take. I like to write scenes that seem unplayable at first. But the two of them exceeded all my expectations," says Glasner.

It is of course difficult to sort out. The rough version of the film was around 5 ½ hours long. The Directors would have preferred to make three films out of it - one about the mother and one each about her two children Tom and Ellen. But in the end, the epic was condensed into three hours - and the result can be admired on 18 February at 6 pm in the Berlinale Palast. "It was my dream that it would be shown in the Berlinale competition. Even more so than with my other films, as it is largely autofiction. But I was afraid that nobody would be interested in my own stuff."

This fear will be dispelled by the Berlinale at the latest.

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