Berlinale Bloggers 2024
“Dying”, or how to live together

Lars Eidinger and Corinna Harfouch in “Dying” (2024). Director: Matthias Glasner
Lars Eidinger and Corinna Harfouch in “Dying” (2024). Director: Matthias Glasner | Photo (detail): © Jakub Bejnarowicz / Port au Prince, Schwarzweiss, Senator

If the Berlin International Film Festival gave out an award for best ensemble, it should go to Matthias Glasner’s competition film “Dying”.

Don’t be deterred by the title—it’s as much about living—or the 3 hour runtime—the five acts offer multiple perspectives from the members of the Lunies family, portrayed by some of Germany’s best actors, as they try to come to terms with the push and pull between individual needs and dreams and familial ties and responsibilities.

Relentless and empathetic

Cool mother Lizzy, demented father Gerd, their overwhelmed conductor son Tom and self-destructive daughter Ellen— the family members are estranged, each grappling more or less valiantly with their demons. Confronted with (impending) death, they encounter each other again. What might sound dour is instead vibrant, warm and absurdly funny, while at the same time deeply touching, engrossing and strangely comforting, inviting us into a big bold shared-humanity hug. Glasner’s big achievement is that he manages taking an relentless but empathetic look at four people and their orbit, showing us that family dynamics are alike —and relatable— in their unrealistic demands and mutual neglect, their inescapable connections and fault lines.

Glasner and his cast run the gamut from birth to death and “the fine line”—the title of the fourth act, before the final “love”— we walk between the two points: failures and regrets, indifference and hurts alongside hope, courage and resilience. “We need to understand why we are the way we are”, Tom’s suicidal composer friend sums it up. 

You might come for Lars Eidinger (intensely frazzled as Glasner’s avatar) who you’ll recognize from differnt films like Personal Shopper or Clouds of Sils Maria, you’ll stay for the entirely outstanding performances from Corinna Harfouch (the brittle and unavailable mother), Robert Gwisdek (the manic, despairing composer),  Lilith Stangenberg (as mean as she is vulnerable as the lost daughter), and Ronald Zehrfeld (the daughter’s tender but co-dependently addicted lover). Too many scenes to mention stand out. Humorously, the near-blind mother has her demented husband guide her driving home from the supermarket to Toni Erdmann-esque effect. Excruciatingly, the mother-son duo (Harfouch and Eidinger reuniting after Hans-Christian Schmid’s family drama What Remains) battle out a relentless, all-out showdown at the kitchen table.

Rather fight than flight

Dying is triggered by midlife director Glasner’s own life, the script written in his neighbourhood cafe after his parents’ death while he was watching the kids. Glasner’s last, equally plainly titled but charged Berlinale entry Mercy over a decade ago feels like a nuclear family precursor to the scaled up, sweepingly operatic family saga of Dying, which powerfully and seductively opens with the youngest family member’s passionate manifesto for good living. A drama that draws audiences in, asks tough but worthwhile questions about the price we pay for living and challenges us to err on the side of fight, not flight. The hope is in the fact that we are playing it, insists Tom on premiering his friend’s composition called “Sterben” (dying).

Given that it is Glasner’s third time in the Berlinale Competition, he is fairly unknown even in Germany but he certainly has arrived with Dying. Together with Andreas Dresen’s From Hilde, With Love, the Berlinale 2024 saw a good mainstage showing of German film, perhaps even with a bear at the end of the festival. Both films leave us with the sense that we have to navigate life being common, extreme, and unresolvedly complicated at the same time, but also that we are actors in it and our choices make a difference. “You can choose not to be unhappy”, Tom reminds his friend.