Mother Courage and Her Children

(Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder)

GDR, 1960, 151 min, b&w
In German; English subtitles
Assistant Director
Set Design
Costume Design
Music (Score)
Production Company


Set during the Thirty Years’ War, in the first half of the 17th century: Anna Fierling, also called Mother Courage, is a merchant with a wagonload of food and goods. She stays out of politics, following the armies as they move back and forth across Central Europe, and does not bemoan war’s injustices. She is passionately committed to her three children and tries to protect them. But one after the other, she loses them to the war from which she profits. This does not change her mind about war, however, and Mother Courage diligently continues to ply her trade. 


This film is strictly modelled upon the 1949 Berliner Ensemble (BE) production of Mother Courage and Her Children by Bertolt Brecht and Erich Engel. A film adaptation had been in discussion since the late 1940s; but neither Erich Engel nor director Wolfgang Staudte, who had already shot parts of an earlier version of the film in 1955, were able to please Brecht. Finally, Peter Palitzsch and Manfred Wekwerth, two BE directors, took on the project and produced a film in the tradition of Brecht’s epic theater with actors of the BE ensemble.


2016 Geliebt und verdrängt retrospective, Locarno Int. Film Festival, Switzerland
1962 Adeline Film Festival, Australia
1962 Mannheim Film Week, West Germany
1961 Youth Literature Diploma, Locarno Int. Film Festival, Switzerland


Press comments

“A must-see: A re-staging of Brecht's legendary Berliner Ensemble production of his great drama. The film preserves a theatrical landmark.”

Chicago Tribune


“Brecht's masterpiece is the greatest play of the twentieth century, and perhaps also the greatest anti-war play of all time!”

—Oskar Eustis, Artistic Director, NY Public Theater


“A faithful reproduction of the staging.”

—Henryk Keisch, Neues Deutschland, 1961


“A successful combination of film and theater.”

—Caligari Filmbühne Wiesbaden


“The closeups on faces allow you to see a lot you usually miss at the theater—especially gestures and glances you can’t see because of the distance between the stage and the audience.”  

—Helmut Ullrich, Neue Zeit


“Directors Peter Palitzsch and Manfred Wekwerth did not merely document what was left of Brecht’s vision. The CinemaScope camera subtly exploits the opportunities available in transferring epic theater into film—for example, focusing, at the end of one scene, on the mechanism of the revolving stage, which keeps the wagon moving.”  

—Daniel Kothenschulte, Frankfurter Rundschau


“Wekwerth and Palitzsch found the only possible form in which to bring Bertolt Brecht—or more precisely this production of this play—with given means onto the screen.”  

—Manfred Jelenski, Deutsche Filmkunst


“To this day, Mother Courage is still ethically forceful and relevant. This filmic adaptation of the Berlin performance, in which Brecht was still involved, is true to the original and a great starting point for discussions in communities and youth groups.”

—Film of the Month, Jury of the Protestant Film Work, April 1965


“A documentary adaptation based on the Berliner Ensemble’s performance.”  

—Manfred Wekwerth, Peter Palitzsch, “Über die Verfilmung von Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder


“To date, most attempts to film theater plays have foundered simply because a stage production cannot easily be transported to the storyline of a film. This cinematic version of the stage production by the world-famous theater Berliner Ensemble is the first such attempt to succeed. This is significant. A new path has been trodden. The stage production loses none of it’s own qualities and yet becomes a film, gaining additional qualities.”  

—André Müller, Theater der Zeit, 4/1961


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