The German film “24 Weeks” from Director Anne Zohra Berrached was screened in Chicago for 8 members of the press on Wednesday, October 5th. It is the story of a popular stand-up comedienne (think a German version of Amy Schumer) who finds herself pregnant by her live-in long-time love and manager, only to discover, several months into her pregnancy, that her unborn child will have both Down’s syndrome and a serious heart condition.
Movingly portrayed by German actress Julia Jentsch, this is not a “feel good” movie. Comedienne Astrid Lorenz (Julia Jentsch) shows every sign of being a woman on the fast track to comedy success. Onstage, she even jokes, “You can tell a decent joke and lactate,” to an adoring audience.
That is all before the couple discovers the health problems their second child will face.
Astrid’s partner, Markus Hager (Bjorne Madel) wants to go to any lengths to have this second child, who will be a younger brother to their daughter, Nele (Emilia Pieschke). The couple is preparing to accept the Down’s Syndrome baby into their lives and visit similarly afflicted youngsters, taking their young daughter. Then their housekeeper, Kati, announces that she is not prepared to stay on and help them, and they turn to Astrid’s mother, who seems to be Astrid’s last hope.
Astrid’s manager and live-in love of 8 years, Markus Hager (Bjorne Madel) is very pro-life and wants to do everything to make this second child happen. (“It feels wrong somehow to decide whether a human being lives or dies.”) Astrid (Julia Jentsch) is initially in synch with her spouse’s wishes.
But, as time goes on, she becomes more convinced that, as she explains to their young daughter, Nele (Emilia Piescke), “I don’t think he (the unborn fetus) will have a nice life.” Accusations come her way from Marcus that she is only thinking about her career and I honestly was waiting for the entire relationship to spiral out of control. (“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.” William Butler Yeats).
I was the only woman in the theater today watching “24 Weeks.”
I sensed outrage amongst the male critics present when the hospital authorities told the frustrated father of the child, “In Germany, ultimately it’s your wife’s decision. That’s the law.” Markus (the prospective father) rails against any talk of a late-term abortion, which would be achieved by injecting potassium chloride into the fetus’ heart, after which the mother would go into labor and give birth to a dead child. Markus tells Astrid, “You can’t do it. Nothing else matters.”
This is a film about life-altering decisions and the people who have to make them.
It is extremely well acted and well written (also by director Anne Zohra Berrached). The topic is still an ongoing debate in this country and will continue to be after the upcoming election. Abortion and capital punishment are always “hot button” issues; that will probably always be the case.
And, no, I won’t tell you what Astrid decides to do.
That really would be a “spoiler.”