Director. Max F䲢erb Germany-Poland. 2008. 118 mins.
A Woman In Berlin is a powerful and uncompromising depiction of the conquest of Berlin and the terror perpetrated on its female citizens by the Red Army. Based on the diary of an anonymous female journalist, A Woman In Berlin: Eight Weeks In The Conquered City, the film captures the fear and hopelessness of women enslaved by their sex while paying testament to the resiliency of the female spirit.
Good business in Germany is assured while the film’s strong Russian presence bodes well for Russian returns; that is, if Russians are willing to explore their heroic army’s complicity in the harrowing events depicted onscreen. Elsewhere, the great challenge will be to convince women to see a movie dealing with mass rape.
The film begins with Anonyma (Hoss) in voice-over recalling her own belief in the destiny of her nation amidst flashbacks of her stylish lifestyle and fascist attitudes. Then comes the bitter realisation that the unthinkable is about to come true.
F䲢erb(Aimee & Jaguar) is something of specialist in depicting life during wartime and here he captures the place and time with riveting verisimilitude. The sonic fury of battle is powerfully evocative. The fight sequences are brief but ferocious, stirring a blood lust in the invaders that will soon be unleashed through their libidos.
The rape scenes are never gratuitous, with stark lighting on the distressed faces. At first, Anonyma tries to help her sister compatriots - it turns out she speaks Russian - but then her time comes. When it becomes apparent that the assaults will keep coming, Anonyma resolves to find herself ‘a wolf’ to protect her. She decides she will choose who will have her.
Hoss is an ideal proxy for this savvy woman, conveying the fear commingled with the bravery such a stance requires. But when she seeks out the Russian commander (Sidikhin) and offers herself to him, she encounters something unexpected. Not only is he a cultured and educated person, he dismisses her offer out of hand.
F䲢erbs gambit is to open the story up, leaving the diary to explore the private moments of other characters, including the Russian commander, who is intrigued by this brazen enemy action. But leaving the text is a double-edge sword.
Anonyma was a journalist first and her text deals with her own struggle with her nation’s actions. The film avoids the weightier political themes to concentrate on the developing relationship between Anonyma and the commander at a time when the word love had lost its meaning.
And yet the film struggles to overcome the complacency that settles in as victims and invaders reach a rapprochement. The terror simmers down to an abject stasis. It’s a dramatic challenge F䲢erbdoes not resolve.
But he does many things right. The wolfish smiles of the Red Army soldiers telegraph years of deprivation. Early scenes show German civilians hiding as the Russian torches search them out and find them, their faces white masks of fear. The camera work is hugely affecting, roving and pursuing on the heel of the predators and their fleeing prey.
The large supporting cast is uniformly excellent with stand-out work from Irm Herman, the veteran of eighteen Fassbinder films, as a Teutonic dowager who too discovers a means of accommodating the transition from invader to occupier.
Still, one longs to know more about this remarkable woman. Ultimately, Anonyma remains an unknown.
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Max F䲢erb based on the diary of Anonymous, A Woman in Berlin.