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COMEDIAN HARMONISTS

SYNOPSIS:
It is 1927 in Germany, and drama student Harry Frommermann (Ulrich Noethen) is inspired to form a singing group modelled after the American a capella group, The Revellers. The group, Comedian Harmonists, is established with members Robert Biberti (Ben Becker), Roman Cycowski (Heino Fuch), Erich Abraham Collin (Heinrich Schafmeister), Ari Leschnikoff (Max Tidof) and Erwin Bootz (Kai Wiesinger), as the pianist (they do not follow the a capella style). They talent and hard work pays off, and soon they are a household name. But Hitler is rising to power, and three of the group's members are jews….

"As the name implies, Comedian Harmonists is a film about music and laughter. United by harmonious music using the orchestra's finest instrument – the human voice - this bittersweet biopic is a moving and powerful experience. Depicting life's extremes, we encounter triumph in the face of adversity, love in the wake of hate and optimism when morals are low. It is a story of unity when the world is divided, a story about dreams and having the determination to make them come true. It's often the true stories that capture our imaginations; Joseph Vilsmaier's beautifully directed and lensed Comedian Harmonists is one such story. Like four different movies in one, it's a drama, set against the brittle backdrop of Nazi Germany; it's a love story – the love of one woman for two men; it's a rags to riches story – a story of a dream come true; it's a Hollywood musical. Put all these together, it's not surprising the result is poignant and most enjoyable. The script involves, the production design seduces, the performances are rich in emotion, while the music – well, it feeds the spirits. Do you remember that wonderful scene in Rogers and Hammerstein's Sound of Music, when the Von Trapp Family sing their poignant last farewell to Austria? There's a scene here that reminds me of that feeling when politics and art collide and there is no escape. The joy of this lovingly made film is not in any one scene, it lies is in its very heart."
Louise Keller

"All that Louise says is true, but my favourite element in Comedian Harmonists is its bohemian ambiance, the sense of artistic fun that inspires the group in the first place. That it gives way to personality clashes, love triangles and the destructive forces of racist hatred only makes it more valuable. There are many great performances and great moments in the film, as the characters are forced by situation to explore and expose their inner selves - unexpectedly. The uncontrollable nature of love, interjecting like a gatecrasher on the lives of the group's two strongest characters, and the overriding goal of the singing unit to fabulous, unique entertainment, are dynamics that give this story a solid base. Especially as it plays out against a backdrop of growing personal rivalries and tensions. This is also a sophisticated looking film yet without pretensions, and a moving film with a genuine bitter-sweet quality that I personally savour and value for its complexity."
Andrew L. Urban

"Although I admit to knowing little about the Comedian Harmonists before viewing this film, it's easy to imagine how theirs was a true story. Stiff, proud Germany would have been craving something wild and non-secular in the late 20s and early 30s. With a little inspired genius, the likable Harry Frommermann came up with the right formula to drive them crazy. Who would have thought a group of comic harmonists would be embraced so fully by Germany and the world? But as this revealing, amusing recreation shows, the Harmonists did it in style. Along with a faithfully reconstructed story, the filmmakers have made a few cleverly subtle comments about the politics that got in the way. As the Harmonists belted out tuneful renditions from Duke Ellington to Cole Porter, from German folk, cabaret and lederhosen song to even a bit of Dvorak, Nazi patriotism was rapidly progressing. The film poignantly shows that like most of their compatriots, the Harmonists were in a sorry state of denial about the true state of affairs brewing around them. Of course, as soon as the Nazis discovered that three of the six were gentiles while the other three were Jews, they barred them from performing in Germany ever again. On a personal level, wives and girlfriends of members of the group were also affected. Erwin, a gentile, separates from his Jewish wife, and Frommermann, a Jew, competes with Robert Biberti (Ben Becker) for the affections of the same woman, Erna (Maret Becker), a gentile. And when Frommermann tries to convince his group to leave Germany behind so they may continue singing, Biberti is pulled away by the pangs of stubborn patriotism. This is a refreshing film that despite its serious undertones remains perfectly balanced throughout. This is a real little treat for the eyes, ears and mind."
Shannon J. Harvey

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 3
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

COMEDIAN HARMONISTS (M)
(Ger)

CAST: Ben Becker, Heino Ferch, Ulrich Noethen, Heinrich Schafmeister, Max Tidof, Kai Wiesinger

DIRECTOR: Joseph Vilsmaier

PRODUCER: Hanno Huth, Reinhard Kloos, Danny Krausz

SCRIPT: Klaus Richter

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Joseph Vilsmaier

EDITOR: Peter R. Adam

MUSIC: Harald Kloser

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Rolf Zehetbauer

RUNNING TIME: 113 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Sharmill

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 30, 1999 (Melbourne only; Sydney, June 1, 2000)







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