German Film Club
Cooperation between Kedai Kebun Forum (KKF) and Goethe Institut Jakarta
Wednesday, 6 February 2019, 7pm
Auditorium, Kedai Kebun Forum (KKF)
Jl. Tirtodipuran 3, Yogyakarta
Open for public and free
The Legend of Timm Thaler or The Boy Who Sold His Laughter
(Timm Thaler oder das verkaufte Lachen)
Director: Andreas Dresen, 2015/2016, feature film, 102 min.
Cast: Arved Friese, Justus von Dohnáyi, Axel Prahl, Charly Hübner, Nadja Uhl, Fritzi Haberland
Timm Thaler is a boy who really has nothing to laugh about. His mother is dead, and soon his father is, too. Still, he laughs often and gladly, and his laughter is infectious to those around him. This brings the devilish Baron Lefuet to come up with a plan: Timm should sell him his laughter in exchange for never again losing a bet. The poor kid becomes immensely rich – and poor at the same time, because he has to give himself over to the evil betting partner. The only salvation: were Lefuet (in German, an anagram for “Devil”) to lose a bet with him, Timm would get his laughter back. Andreas Dresen has taken the 1962 bestseller by James Krüss, which was also a hit when adapted for TV in 1979, and restaged the story with lots of imagination and effort. The final insight: there is nothing worth selling your soul for.
Timm Thaler does not have much to laugh about. The boy lost his mother young, he lives in poverty, and then his father dies in a work accident. The only thing the youth has left is his enchanting and contagious laugh. But he soon loses that as well – not to the painful experiences had with his evil stepmother Lydia and her son Erwin, but to a mysterious, sinister stranger who calls himself Baron Lefuet and buys Timm’s laughter. The price: Timm, who used to regularly go to the horse races with his father and watch him usually lose, will never again lose another bet. Should that ever happen, then Lefuet would have to give Timm his laughter back.
The deal works. Timm wins one horse-racing bet after the other, but he can no longer laugh about it, especially since he is initially robbed of his winnings several times by the two crooks, Behemoth and Belial (whose names refer to diabolical mythical ancestors!). Still, Timm does manage to win an imposing headstone for his dead father. Lefuet, however, laughs: he laughs to the edge of madness, and at his bizarre base of operations he demands that his staff now produce only funny products. Behemoth and Belial also work for him and, now turned into mice, have to spy on Timm. Only Ida, the baker’s daughter and friend of the boy, senses that something is wrong with him. Timm soon wants his laughter back and goes looking for Lefuet, who has in the meantime stolen Ida’s beautiful eyes. When Timm gets a job as an elevator operator at the “Grand Hotel”, he gets to know the bartender Kreschimir, who turns out to be brave friend. Kreschimir discovers that Lefuet is nothing less than an anagram for “Devil”. With a sly bet Timm forces the “Devil” so far into the corner that the rumor soon spreads that the Baron has committed suicide and Timm, as the heir, will become the richest boy in the world. But evil isn’t giving up that easily: the alleged twin brother of Lefuet shows up claiming to be Timm’s guardian – against whom the boy must win yet another crafty bet.
THE LEGEND OF TIMM THALER OR THE BOY WHO SOLD HIS LAUGHTER is based on the children’s book of the same name written by James Krüss in 1962. An immediate best seller, it was successfully adapted as a TV series in 1979. In German literature, the basic motif – the selling of one’s soul to the Devil – has a long tradition, from Goethe’s “Faust” to Adelbert von Chamisso’s “Peter Schlemihl’s Miraculous Story” (in which the title character sells his shadow) to Thomas Mann’s “Doctor Faustus”. The motif also turns up often in German silent films, such as in the various versions of THE STUDENT OF PRAGUE (in which the object of the Devil’s desire is the poor student’s reflection in the mirror).
Director Andreas Dresen has achieved, with his new and at times very freely adapted version of the original story, a work as equally child-friendly as that of James Krüss. Dresen sets the story against the backdrop of a German city in the 1920s, but transcends this level when he inserts an animated sequence telling of a poor farmer in Nigeria who is cheated of his land and water by Lefuet and his consortium. Turbo-capitalism is the work of the Devil, is the message. “Since the Devil can travel through time and space, at a certain point the film enters the fantastic and takes up contemporary elements,” says Dresen. At the same time, the director also manages to “smuggle” images into his film that tend to work as insider jokes for adults, but that never disturb the tonality of the production: Lefuet gives a speech while wearing the same outfit of the Apple founder Steve Jobs, for example, and at the Baron’s big party at the Grand Hotel people like Gaddafi or a Russian oligarch seem to feel perfectly at home amidst a crowd of dubiously powerful and moneyed VIPs. In Andreas Dresen’s words, “It is an exploration of the important question: What am I willing to sacrifice for my desire of wealth? What price do we pay in a world that aims only for profit and wealth? The film deals with a serious issue, even if it comes wrapped in a fun, lightweight guise.” The last thing the narrator says, “When a person laughs, the Devil has lost his power.”
Andreas Dresen was born in 1963 in Gera. After completing his secondary education, he worked as a sound engineer at the state theater in Schwerin and completed an internship at the DEFA studio for feature films. From 1986 to 1991, he studied directing at the Film University Babelsberg “Konrad Wolf” in Potsdam-Babelsberg. Since 1992, he has worked as freelance author and director. He feature-film debut, SILENT COUNTRY (1992), already brought him the Hessian Film Award and the German Film Critics Association’s Award. He achieved his breakthrough at the 1999 Berlinale with his multi-character movie, NIGHTSHAPES. Two years later, GRILL POINT became a major success, for which he was also awarded the Silver Bear at the Berlinale as well as the German Film Award (Silver). Dresen enjoyed his largest public success to date in 2006 with SUMMER IN BERLIN. Dresen also makes documentary films, such as VOTE FOR HENRYK!, and returns regularly to the theater, among other places in Leipzig and Berlin. At the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, in the “Un Certain Regard” section. Dresen introduced his drama STOPPED ON TRACK, which observes how the diagnosis of an inoperable brain tumor affects a man and his family. From 2016 to 2017, Dresen directed his first feature film for children and youngsters, TIMM THALER OR THE BOY WHO SOLD HIS LAUGHTER (2017). His adaptation has been nominated for the “Best Children’s Film” award at the German Film Awards. Dresen is a member of the Academy of the Arts Berlin-Brandenburg, the European Film Academy, and a founding member of the German Film Academy. He lives in Potsdam.