DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
A WOMAN IN BERLIN (Anonyma - Eine Frau in Berlin) (director/writer: Max Färberböck; screenwriters: based on the diary by Anonyma/Catharina Schuchmann; cinematographer: Benedict Neuenfels; editor: Ewa J. Lind; music: Zbigniew Preisner; cast: Nina Hoss (anonymous), Evgeny Sidikhin (Andrej), Irm Hermann (Widow), Rüdiger Vogler (Eckhart), Ulrike Krumbiegel (Ilse Hoch), Rolf Kanies (Friedrich Hoch), Jördis Triebel (Bärbel Maltaus), August Diehl (Gerd), Roman Gribkov (Anatol) and Juliane Köhler (Elke); Runtime: 131; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Günter Rohrbach; Strand Releasing; 2008)

 
"This sobering account of such tragic events deserves kudos for avoiding sensationalizing a subject matter that easily could be exploited."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Max Färberböck ("September"/"Aimee & Jaguar") is the cowriter-director of this unpleasant but authentic 'war is inhumane movie.' It's based on the 1954 book (published in Germany in 1959) subtitled "Eight Weeks in the Conquered City" and is written anonymously in the form of a diary by an unnamed German woman journalist (Nina Hoss). The journalist was a true believer in Germany's cause and ability to win the war, who was engaged to a German officer on the front. "Woman" tells of the gruesome systematic mass rape of the German women by the victorious Russian army during the closing days of WW II (during a four-month period in 1945) and of how the diarist German journalist survived. Its taboo subject matter sent chills down the German public's spine. The reaction to the book was negative in print, with some accusing it of "besmirching the honor of German women." Therefore the book was shunted and not republished until 2001, when the author died. Historians have estimated that some 100,000 rapes occurred in Berlin during those wartorn days.

In an apartment block on a rubble-strewn street, a number of German women are repeatedly raped by their Russian liberators and must learn how to navigate in the new brutal reality of their conditions. The story’s anonymous chronicler lives there and figures rather than being raped at will by the low-ranking soldiers, it's better to chose her own poison and for protection and food becomes the mistress of a Russian officer--the high-ranking Russian major named Andrej (Evgeny Sidikhin). The Russian-speaking heroine survives, but still lives with her shame of a wartime love affair fueled only by the 'chaos of war.'

The in-your-face harrowing film has characters who are familiar caricatures, is always shrill and unpleasant. It tries to tap into the lasting scars left on the German women and the price paid for losing the war, as it brings again to the public's attention something verbatim from WW II that has been swept under the rug as an under-told chapter in history. There is no question that this disturbing subject has to be dealt with, I just question if this difficult film has dealt with it in an impactful way. On the plus side, the film doesn't say that the Nazi barbarism justifies what was done to the women of Berlin by the Communist soldiers, it instead tries to tell its ghastly story in a clear and unsentimental way and only asks us to be nonjudgmental. It's a horrible film to sit through, even if the rapes weren't graphic. Yet this sobering account of such tragic events deserves kudos for avoiding sensationalizing a subject matter that easily could be exploited. 

REVIEWED ON 9/15/2009       GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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