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Toronto International Film Festival
The man responsible for the well-received “Aimee & Jaguar,” the 1999 Holocaust-era drama about a lesbian relationship between a German and a Jew, has once again returned, albeit less successfully this time around, to women and the war.
“A Woman in Berlin” is based on an anonymous war-time diary, published in 1954, about the complex emotional and economic interactions, at the end of the war in the spring of 1945 and after, between the German women left behind at home and the victorious Soviet troops mostly interested in raping them.
When the book was first published, the film’s final inter-title informs us, the public’s reaction to it was so hostile that its anonymous author never permitted it to be reprinted during her lifetime.
From the evidence of the film alone, it’s obvious that the book is chock-full of dark revelations and deep thoughts about the compromised relationships between the starving (largely female) populace and the well-stocked Soviet army starving for German women.
Alas, during the process of adaptation, somehow the film script seems to have gotten overwhelmed by the rich plethora of material. Thus the film ends up relying on stating a basic situation over and over rather than developing any sort of dramatic story concerning recognizable human beings, at least until things get moving a little faster in its second hour.
Otherwise it’s rape, rape, and more rape, followed by an accommodation between the opposing groups that allowed, basically, for selective raping (in other words, “protectors”) in exchange for consumer goodies.
Lest we think this is all an exercise in Russian-bashing, several lines of dialogue remind us that what the German soldiers did to the Russians was even worse. In one particularly powerful moment, an angry Russian soldier recounts the experience of watching German soldiers kill all the children in his village then swing them by their legs against the wall, crushing their skulls.
What seemed to most offend the book’s original readers was the idea that German women were human beings rather than heroic figures sacrificing all for the Fatherland. One striking moment comes when an older widow recounts with pride and gusto the sexual compliments her Ukrainian lover has showered upon her.
In addition to the love-making, there was a great deal of eating and drinking that was a little too wholeheartedly indulged in for the tastes of the unrepentant Nazi prudes who were tsk-tsking a decade after the fact.
Yet all this love-making and eating and drinking take their toll on the audience as well. There are simply too many battles, too many grand celebrations, and too much sentimental singing for this two-hour plus movie to ever generate much forward movement.
Neither the basic dramatic situations nor the chief characters are ever clearly delineated, leaving the viewer with a strong sense that something important is always being left out.
When Gerd, the anonymous author’s husband, finally returns home, he’s disgusted when he reads the diaries that have been addressed to him by his collaborating wife. We who have shared these women’s impossibly compromised lives are supposed to feel otherwise, it seems, but unfortunately the badly written script won’t permit that.
Production Company: Constantin Film Produktion
Cast: Nina Hoss, Evgeny Sidikhin, Irm Hermann, Ruediger Vogler, Ulrike Krumbiegel
Director: Max Farberbock
Screenwriter: Max Farberbock, based on the anonymous diary “Eine Frau in Berlin”
Producers: Guenter Rohrback
Director of photography: Benedict Neuenfels
Production designer: Uli Hanisch
Music: Zbigniew Preisner
Editor: Ewa J. Lind
Sales: Beta Cinema
No rating, 131 minutes
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