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TO SEPT 8

Writer-director Heinrich Breloer’s three-part saga centers on three novelists—Nobel Prize-winning Thomas Mann, his brother Heinrich, and his son Klaus—but it features relatively few shots of guys scribbling in notebooks. As Thomas tried to maintain a godlike detachment from life, his brother, his six children, and their various significant others were on the barricades of mid-20th-century social and political strife. But for all the bad behavior in the Mann clan, none of them took the convenient side when Hitler came to power. The most prominent Manns were anti-Nazis, exiled in Southern California by the time the U.S. entered the war; the only Nazi stooge with a Mann link was gay actor Gustaf Grundgens, who was briefly married to Thomas’ lesbian daughter Erika and who inspired Klaus’ angry novel Mephisto (filmed in 1981 by Istvan Svabo). This scandal-packed docudrama follows the Manns from the ’20s to Thomas’ 1955 death in Zurich, where the never-Communist novelist had gone to escape McCarthy’s witch hunt. Most of the scenes are re-creations, but Breloer uses archival footage and recent interviews with Mann’s children, principally his youngest daughter, Elisabeth. Among the supporting players are Marlene Dietrich—whose breakthrough film, The Blue Angel, was based on a Heinrich Mann novel—and Adolf Hitler, the man whose threat managed to reconcile the politics of the liberal Heinrich and the conservative Thomas. It screens, in parts, to Sunday, Sept. 8, at the Kennedy Center’s American Film Institute National Film Theater. $7. (202) 833-2348. See Showtimes for details. (Mark Jenkins)