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German Series in Canada
The Last Word

Standbild aus der Netflix Serie "Das letzte Wort: Karla Fazius (Anke Engelke) im Bestattungsinstitut
© Netflix

Death suits her. In “The Last Word”, her first Netflix series, Germany’s most versatile entertainer Anke Engelke plays a eulogist, exploring the taboos that surround the subject of death. The result is a touching and bitter-sweet (family) story about lies, secrets, unexpected endings, and bumpy new beginnings.

By Angela Zierow

over. OUT. Beginning.

The bad news first: anyone hoping that “The Last Word” will be a cross between “Ladykracher” and “Wochenshow”, delivering non-stop slapstick and laugh-out-loud gags, may not find this six-part Netflix series all that amusing. But the good news is that Anke Engelke (“Frau Müller muss weg”) gives a brilliant performance once again in this (reasonably) serious role. What is more, the multiple Grimme award winner even masters the difficult balancing act of engaging with the taboo subject of death in a way that is both entertaining and serious.

Demise at the dining table: Dentist’s wife Karla Fazius (Engelke) has just surprised her husband Stephan (Johannes Zeiler) with a delightfully bawdy song at their silver wedding anniversary party and slipped into a sexy negligee for the afterparty in bed when an aneurysm abruptly dispatches her spouse into the afterlife. And as if this weren’t dramatic enough, the grieving widow discovers after 25 years of marriage that her dearly-departed has been leading a double life and had secretly swapped his thriving dental office for an artist’s studio. Now there’s not a cent left in their bank account, and the widow embarks on an emotional rollercoaster ride of heartache, longing, fear, and anger.

Farewell with song and dance

Financial worries, family turmoil, and emotional distress see Karla stumble into a profession that she soon comes to view as a vocation: working as a eulogist for the mortician Andreas Borowski (Thorsten Merten). Together with his wife Frauke (Claudia Geisler-Bading) and imperturbable step-son Ronnie (Aaron Hilmer), this lugubrious semi-alcoholic has spent years trying to steer his petit-bourgeois funeral home out of bankruptcy. Enter Karla, who brings a breath of fresh air into Borowski’s ailing firm with her unconventional and often irreverent ideas. Soon the mortician also finds himself questioning whether rigid rituals and conventions really make a funeral less of a doleful business. Shouldn’t burial celebrations instead be as unique and unforgettable as the deceased? Even if this sometimes means a funeral ceremony ends in commotion?

"It can't be just any funeral. It has to be special, it can't be that people just want to get it over with, sit there ... Do you know what I mean?" "Yes I think so." "It must be a party - you understand?" "Yes I think so." "With music and with dance and with lots of flowers - with a brass band, for example, is that possible?"

Dialogue from "The last word"

For Anke Engelke, who depicts all the inner conflict and vulnerability of a woman in her mid-fifties who has been knocked completely for six, Karla is the perfect role. It gives the entertainer another opportunity to portray a character who has little in common with her comedy persona: Karla teeters clumsily through the wreckage of her previous existence, stepping at times on other people’s feet, yet ultimately succeeding in patching her family back together, however haphazardly. It is not only Karla and her clan that have to sweep up the detritus of the former lives, however. Each episode focuses on a different death at Borowski’s funeral parlor, and on people who are all trying to find their own ways to cope with their loss. Paolo Conte’s earworm “Sparring Partner” has a gently placatory effect, floating above all the chaos. 


The award-winning caster Daniela Tolkin (“Fack ju Göhte”), who also picked the cast for the Netflix series “Biohackers” (2019), once again demonstrated her extraordinary instinct for coherent ensembles. Gudrun Ritter (“Boxhagener Platz”) stands out for example as mean Granny Mina. Ever since she was kicked out of her fifth nursing home for her spirited “drug bartering”, the poisonous old cynic, who keeps her cancer at bay with white wine and cigarettes, has been a permanent fixture on Karla’s couch. With great dedication she drives her daughter to the verge of a nervous breakdown, and advises her grandson Tonio in matters of the heart – with the disastrous consequences one might expect. Up-and-coming Berlin actor Juri Winkler (“Rico, Oskar und die Tieferschatten”) gives a convincing portrayal of an annoying 15-year-old adolescent, whose last words to his begetter were a snarled “You really are the crappiest shit dad in this shitty fucked-up world!”. So it’s hardly surprising that the boy needs therapy following daddy’s sudden demise. The wonderfully versatile Nina Gummich, who most recently appeared as prostitute Erna in the third season of “Berlin Babylon”, plays Karla’s daughter Judith, who adopts a resolute “We’ll get through this” attitude to mask the fact that emotions of any kind terrify the hell out of her.
  • Stillframe from the serie "The last word" - Karla Fazius (Anke Engelke) © Netflix, Photo: Frederic Batier
    Stillframe from the serie "The last word" - Karla Fazius (Anke Engelke)
  • Stillframe from the serie "The last word" © Netflix, Photo: Frederic Batier
    Stillframe from the serie "The last word"
  • Stillframe from the serie "The last word" © Netflix, Photo: Frederic Batier
    Stillframe from the serie "The last word"
  • Stillframe from the serie "The last word" © Netflix, Photo: Frederic Batier
    Stillframe from the serie "The last word"
  • Stillframe from the serie "The last word" © Netflix, Photo: Frederic Batier
    Stillframe from the serie "The last word"
  • Stillframe from the serie "The last word" © Netflix, Photo: Frederic Batier
    Stillframe from the serie "The last word"
  • Stillframe from the serie "The last word" © Netflix, Photo: Frederic Batier
    Stillframe from the serie "The last word"

From deeply sad to morbidly funny

Though not everything is perfect in “The Last Word”, Engelke and co. confidently iron out the few bumps in the plot, and after a slight overdose of slapstick at the beginning the six-part series settles down into something between a tragicomedy and family drama, enriched with a few dashes of absurdity and black humor. We are reminded of the quirky US hit series “Six Feet Under" and Ricky Gervais’ deeply sad “After Life”. It is a mix that also found favor with German feature pages, which paid tribute to the Netflix production with benevolent and in some cases even enthusiastic comments: “Great dialogs” wrote Süddeutsche Zeitung, while Frankfurter Allgemeine declared the series a “gem full of black humor and philanthropy”, and NDR’s verdict was: “Anke Engelke gives a brilliant portrayal of a middle-ager in a period of transition”. Is that enough for a follow-up? Though the last word has not yet been spoken, there are certainly enough open endings to justify a second season.
Incidentally, it was Thorsten Merten (“Spreewaldkrimi” series, “Sedwitz”) who came up with the idea for the series, which was created by Aaron Lehman (“The Most Beautiful Girl in the World”) and Carlos V. Irmscher (“The Last Pig"). Merten, who began his film and TV career in Andreas Dresen’s “Grill Point” and completed his drama training at Berlin’s Ernst Busch School, where he qualified as a cabaret artist, not only conceived a hugely likable old codger in the form of the laconic funeral director Borowski, but also had him utter what is probably the series’ wisest words: “There is no right way to grieve, and if there is no right way, there is also no wrong way.” How comforting. And how true.
The Last Word; D 2020; Directed by: Aron Lehmann; Starring: Anke Engelke, Thorsten Merten, Nina Gummich, Johannes Zeiler, Aaron Hilmer, Gudrun Ritter, Juri Winkler, Claudia Geisler-Bading; Length: 6 episodes of approx. 45 minutes.


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