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TO AUG. 29

Great novels do not always yield even halfway decent films, and lesser novels sometimes make better source material. Of the madly scribbling Mann family, Thomas is widely considered the best, yet his work hasn’t been adapted to the screen with great success. Filmmakers have done better with the work of his son Klaus, whose books are not widely read—at least in English. Those who are fluent in German may have a different perspective, and they certainly have an advantage in evaluating the three remaining films in this program of movies derived from Mann novels: The first of them, Alfred Weidenmann’s 1959 retelling of Thomas Mann’s Die Buddenbrooks (pictured; Aug. 15), is in German without subtitles. It’s the sweeping saga of a 19th-century merchant clan in decline, a family chronicle that’s perhaps as complex as the Manns’ own. Next up is an adaptation of The Kaiser’s Lackey (Aug. 22), a novel by Thomas’ brother Heinrich. It’s the satirical tale of a proto-Nazi blowhard who is obsequious to those in power and contemptuous of anyone he imagines to be his inferior. His attempt to curry favor with the kaiser, however, ends in tatters. The best-known of these films—again, at least in English—is István Szabós’ Mephisto (Aug. 29), taken from one of Klaus’ novels. This chilling 1981 film could be a companion piece to The Kaiser’s Lackey: It’s about a talented actor, based on Mann family friend Gustaf Gründgrens, who becomes a favorite of the Nazis. The series runs through Monday, Aug. 29 (all screenings are on Mondays at 6:30 p.m.; see Showtimes for a weekly schedule), at the Goethe-Institut, 812 7th St. NW. $6. (202) 289-1200. (Mark Jenkins)