Back to top

Seneca - On the Creation of Earthquakes

GER/MAR 2023

A grotesque drama about the last days of the ancient philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca and the beginnings of Emperor Nero's despotic regime in Ancient Rome. Seneca fails in his own philosophical principles when his former student Nero forces him to commit suicide.

Filmgalerie 451 produces the new feature film by Robert Schwentke (The Captain). The film premiered at the Berlinale 2023 in a Special Gala. The German theatrical release was on 23 March 2023, the international premiere will be on April 21st at the Beijing International Film Festival / Wanxiang Tianjie Cinema. (More about the film on instagram #seneca.themovie)


The year is 65 AD, Rome. The philosopher Seneca has been Emperor Nero‘s mentor and close advisor since childhood, and has been significantly involved in his ascent. Nevertheless, Nero grows weary of Seneca and uses a foiled attack on his life to falsely accuse Seneca of being an accomplice. Whilst throwing a decadent party at his farmhouse, Seneca receives his surprising death sentence from Emperor Nero, delivered by a messenger. He must be dead by morning. This last night becomes his
final test: Who is he really? An opportunist, hypocrite, and collaborator? Or, according to his self-image, a morally upright wise man able to look death in the face without fear?

Press reviews

Thankfully the exceptionally talented John Malkovich approached this role with that exact mindset – his performance is "one for the ages" and it's clear he really felt and believed in every word he spoke. He knows this is a legendary character and that Schwentke wanted the performance to be legendary as well, to have an impact beyond "was this good acting?" when what is being said matters way more than that kind of criticism. This same argument could be made for the entire film – it's not about how these thoughts are presented, it's about what is being said and why we need to listen to wisdom, why we need to stop making such a big deal about arrogance, and learn to respect intellectualism again. This movie probably won't change many minds, but you never know. Maybe Malkovich's Seneca will inspire some, maybe Schwentke's message will resonate. One can only hope. – Alex Billington,

Awards and Festivals

- Berlinale Special Gala / Premiere on February 20th 2023 - Beijing International Film Festival / International Premiere on April 21st 2023

Additional Texts

Statement of the director

SENECA – ON THE CREATION OF EARTHQUAKES is a parable on the danger of excessive power and totalitarian systems. The psychogram of a collaborator and opportunist who helps the tyrant Nero to gain legitimacy in exchange for immeasurable wealth. The film continues my examination of forms of opportunism in totalitarian systems, which began with THE CAPTAIN (DER HAUPTMANN).
I have researched the relationship between Seneca and Nero for several years. The script is based on historical sources and Seneca‘s original texts. Some scenes are inspired by the annals of Tacitus, others by Cassius Dio and Suetonius. Scenic dialogues strictly adhere to Seneca‘s written dialogues, letters and essays. We have only shortened Seneca‘s Thyestes, not changed it. Besides a confrontation with tyranny, our film is also a tragic comedy about a man‘s unsuccessful attempt to attain immortality through language and ideas to prove with his end: he didn‘t just talk the talk, but he walked the walk. And it is about what happens when the most intellectual and sensitive people of the world compete against real barbarians who are all about winning. Whatever it takes.
Seneca is a bit like Chekhov’s Platonov, suicidally jumping off a cliff and landing in a puddle. But it is also somewhat like Bunuel’s dinner parties that never end. The tonality of the film is excessive and tragicomic. Nothing makes the night darker than a light, and so we combine the greatest desperation with childish behavior, bloodthirst with comedy – a tonality I have used in THE CAPTAIN and which is a perfect match for John Malkovich. You will find that the language of SENECA – ON THE CREATION OF EARTHQUAKES may surprise you. Our translation has moments in which Seneca, waxing poetic, soars into the otherworldly; but there are other moments in which he grabs his audience persuasively by the short hairs, as done for time immemorial, using simple, accessible, grabby language. This is a work of words. It is a truism that cinema is about “show, don’t tell” and “the most cinematic” thing imaginable is a Hitchcock sequence that is all about cutting between wordless images to tell a story by suggestion. In SENECA – ON THE CREATION OF EARTHQUAKES, Seneca has more words than Hamlet does in Hamlet. He is a veritable word-machine, a word-incubation-device, who speaks and speaks and speaks even as life is literally dribbling out of him. Words are everything for him, they create and undo the world, but they aren’t of much value to him in the final analysis. And that is all we are left with in SENECA – ON THE CREATION OF EARTHQUAKES: the final analysis.
So why bother with such a character? What fascinates me about Seneca is that he so completely resembles the elites who are not up to combatting the newly resurgent barbarians of this world. Reactionary, anti-democratic, chauvinistic bang-on-the-table kind of guys, pretending to respect democratic structures only to ignore, undermine and disintegrate them at any given opportunity. In each place on earth where this reborn nationalism has risen, there is an impotent, well-meaning, well-read, detached, self-regarding elite that is blind to the real danger.




Directed by
Robert Schwentke
Written by
Robert Schwentke und Matthew Wilder
John Malkovich (Seneca), Tom Xander (Nero), Geraldine Chaplin, Louis Hofmann, Lilith Stangenberg, Samuel Finzi, Mary-Louise Parker, Andrew Koji, Julian Sands, Alexander Fehling, Wolfram Koch, Annika Meier, Samia Chancrin, Laurean Wagner, Brice Bexter, Waldemar Kobus, Nadia Benzakour, Blerim Destani
Director of Photography
Benoit Debie
Ernesto Giolitti
Production Designer
Sasa Zivkovic, Roman Mares, Marco Trentini
Thyestes“ conceived by
Ersan Mondtag
Anna Wübber
Make-Up Artists
Friederike Schaefer, Julia Böhm
Mike Czarnecki
Music Composer
Martin Todsharow
Anja Dihrberg, Kate Ringsell, Salah Benchegr
Produced by
Filmgalerie 451 - Frieder Schlaich, Irene von Alberti
Gretchenfilm - Annegret Weitkämper-Krug
Kasbah Films - Karim Debbagh
ZDF/ARTE - Simon Ofenloch
dropkick pictures - Guido Broscheit
Harro von Have
Associate Producers
Jakob Kleefass, Katrin Neubauer, Ralph Oliver Graef
German Distributor
Picture Tree
Funded by
BKM – Die Beauftrage für Kultur und Medien, Medienboard Berlin Brandenburg MBB, Medien und Filmgesellschaft Baden-Württemberg MFG, Filmstiftung Nordrheinwestfalen NRW, Deutscher Filmförderfonds DFFF, Moroccan Cash Rebate CCM, Creative Europe MEDIA Programme of the European Union

Assistant Art Director
Claudio Cosentino
Art Department Coordinator
Amine Bensalek
Set Dec
Alwara Thaler
Leadman Set Dresser
Daniel Plashues
Set Dec Assistant / Buyer
Rabaa Rahmouni
Set Dec Assistants
Irai Amana Martins de Souza, Cedric Maury
Set Dec Painter
Montassir Ajaabab
Set Dec Buyer
Mohamed Bouh
Set Dresser / Food Painter / Set Paint
Werilliam Henry Scott
Set Dressers
Brahim Messaoudi, Abdessamad Blinda, Anas Bouabidi
Set Dresser/ Carpenter
Brahim Aït Bourhim
Driss El Kadiri
Set Painter
Anne Petra Schnell
Prop Master
Toby Wood
Tarik Amchemar
Props Assistant
Taoufik Moussoute
Stand By Props
Soufiane Ousaadi
1st AD
Mehdi Souissi
2nd AD
Mohamed Ali Souissi
Script Continuity
Andrea Maldonado Agustin
Trainee (Direction)
Lewis von Alberti
1st AC
Marie Queinec
2nd AC
Asma Hafili
Asmaa Amrahou
Best Boy Gaffer
Abderrahim Bissar
Key Grip
Ulrich Faßbender
Best Boy Grip
Nordine Yakoubi
Sound Operator
Steffen Graubaum
Boom Operator
Robin Hörrmann
Construction Manager
Boujamaa Rassourance
Head Carpenter
Abdelhadi Fkharz
Head Plasterer
Lahcen Bicha
Head Painter
My El Hassan Alaoui
Animal Wrangler
Abdellah Herdam
1st Costume Assistant
Rachel Vogelheim
Costume Supervisor
Ines Khouzima
Costume Assistant
Otmane Elkhammari, Othman Ajana, Nadia Ait Kharaz
Constanze Schuster, Stefan Heinrichs
Wardrobe Mistress
Larissa Sauer
Tailor #1
Abdellah El Mabrouk
Tailor #2
My Abdellatif El Amrani
Trainees (Costume)
Johanna Helen Baumann, Franziska Chantal Börner, Julian Philip Hirsch
Make-up, Hair - Cast
Alena Halavatskaya
Make-up, Hair - Crowd
Khadija Hamdan
Trainees (Make-up)
Helene Frese
Location Manager
Lhoucine Khabid
Location Coordinator
Aissam Raja
Location Assistant
Hassane Aberdine
VFX Executive Producer
Heiko Burkardsmaier
VFX Supervisor on Set
Juri Stanossek, Rouven Dombrowski
Stunt Coordinator
Noureddine Hajjoujou
Transport Captain
Ismail Bakkioui, Mouad Rhaddioui
Nurse Bochra Largou, Fatima Ezzahra Abarach
Band Recordings
Tom Rußbüldt
Sound Design
André Bendocchi Alves
Mounir Ben Hayoun, Abdeljalil Ait Elcaid, Soufiane Jaatit, Abdelkbir Ben Aabid, Hassan Bassad
Jörg Huke, Adnan Semmar
Assistant Accountant
Soulaimane Achkouk, Sophia Affane
Production Accountant
Ibtissame Semmar
Production Runner
Youssef Sakal
Production Assistants
Anna Bitter, Sara El Gouni, Oualid Zarouala
Production Coordinator
Wiam Jaid
Production Supervisor
Seloua Elgouni
Unit Production Manager
Noureddine Aberdine
Line Producer
Irene von Alberti, Felix Eisele, Karim Debbagh