John Walter’s first nonfiction feature, “How to Draw A Bunny” (2003), was a serious study of eccentric collage artist Ray Johnson, done in playful fashion. Walter demonstrates further strengths of observation in “Theater of War,” which follows the rehearsals for a 2006 Central Park production by New York’s Public Theater of Brecht’s “Mother Courage and Her Children,” translated by Tony Kushner and starring Meryl Streep. Michael Almereyda’s “This So-Called Disaster” (2004) had the privilege of Sam Shepard allowing his work to be documented, and Walter’s consideration of Brecht’s process is similarly fascinating for Streep, allowing her usual reluctance and reticence to fall before his camera. Walter intersperses an essayistic consideration of Brecht’s ideas and art to teeming result. (A collection of photographs of Brecht’s own production makes for dynamic counterpoint with George C. Wolfe’s 2006 staging.) A serious project that is never severe, “Theater of War” builds on its mostly inspired editing structure to demonstrate that Brecht’s ideas remain relevant and that Streep is, well, Meryl Streep. With Kevin Kline, Kushner, Silvestre Rasuk. 95m. (Ray Pride)
“Theater of War” opens Friday at Facets.