"A Love for Peace" tells of the pen-pal friendship between Nobel Prize founder Alfred Nobel and peace activist Bertha von Suttner.
The two main actors of the biopic: Birgit Minichmayr as the writer Bertha von Suttner and Sebastian Koch as Alfred Nobel. Image: dpa
In recent years, the public broadcasters have developed a very special biopic film genre: historical female figures of the Belle epoque who are ahead of their time, albeit a very photogenic one, and who go their own way even though that was not intended at the time. Heike Makatsch as teddy bear pioneer "Margarete Steiff" and as "Dr. Hope – Eine Frau gibt nicht auf," Munich’s first female physician. Felicitas Woll as the world’s first female car driver Bertha Benz ("Carl & Bertha"). Most recently Katharina Schuttler as "Clara Immerwahr," women’s rights activist and Germany’s first female chemistry doctor.
And now: Birgit Minichmayr as Bertha von Suttner – Austrian pacifist and first Nobel Peace Prize winner. The play on which it is based, by Esther Vilar, is called "Mr. & Mrs. Nobel"; the film (by director Urs Egger and author Rainer Berg) is called, for the pathetics among the viewers: "A Love for Peace – Bertha von Suttner and Alfred Nobel". But it is more about Bertha than about Alfred. Sebastian Koch fits into the role of the sidekick with a full beard that gets grayer from scene to scene – it really suits him.
From their first meeting – Alfred steps out of a coffin with which he has furnished his winter garden – the two are electrified by each other. Soul mates, life people who have found each other. Two radical nonconformists who, when viewed objectively, would have to be at odds with each other. The peace activist and the inventor of dynamite. Tension is to arise from this (apparent) conflict.
Peace Bertha Wins Discourse Sovereignty
The war profiteer Alfred Nobel is not portrayed as a hawk, but as a beautiful philanthropist and pacifist in disguise with a big lie in his life: "Dynamite is not a weapon. Dynamite is a substance. Its purpose is completely open. […] The war will not stop just because I stop researching. […] What I am ultimately concerned with is that we need a weapon that makes wars impossible. A weapon so destructive that no one can use it without destroying everything."
Such rubbish has also been heard recently from the out-of-life scientists in the American TV series "Manhattan", about the development of the first atomic bomb in 1943 in the New Mexico desert: "The bomb that will end war. All wars. Forever." It goes without saying that Peace Bertha effortlessly wins the discourse sovereignty for herself. For this, all she and the filmmakers need is a scene in a military hospital on the field of the Russo-Ottoman War (1877/1878). The effects of dynamite on the human organism are illustrated – the wooden boxes with the clearly legible inscription "Dynamite Alfred Nobel" are unloaded right next to the wounded. Get it?!
Pretty but colorless
The dynamite, however, does not change Bertha’s unreserved feelings for Alfred, which nevertheless (have to) remain platonic and are (have to) be lived out in a lifelong pen friendship. For the viewer, this means looking over Bertha’s and Alfred’s shoulders in countless scenes as they write letters, which Birgit Minichmayr and Sebastian Koch read out from the off. Koch also does this when Alfred Nobel finally donates his prize in his will. Then he sits dead in his armchair and then Bertha is awarded the prize and then the film is over.
It is really amazing that a film with such excellent actors and such pretty set design (production design: Florian Reichmann) can turn out so colorless and ponderous. It is also astonishing, but it can’t be otherwise, there would be no other way to explain their films, that none of the writers and directors of the new belle epoque women’s power films have ever looked at Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s "Fontane Effie Briest". They seem to want nothing, least of all to entertain.
If the term "cultivated boredom" didn’t already exist, that’s exactly where it would have come from.