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rape is the particular plight of women during war and acknowledged at long last as a war crime.The plight of German women at the end of WW II was especially awful as they had protection from no one. General Eisenhower who punished rape committed by his men with execution outside of Germany (first rape took place six hours after invasion of Normandy had begun)but as for German women all men had free hands as these women were all declared "willing". The Americans are the only ones to have gone through archives as for army rape in WW II however the one recent book existing is not allowed for publishing in the US because of the war in Iraq (!!)so exists in French version only. The French and the British have preferred to turn a blind eye to what was done by their soldiers towards German women let alone the Russians. It is very important that this film has been made at long last. Subject concerns all not just its victims let alone the children born out of the horrors. Bravo Germany.
To begin with the end note: When the anonymous memoir adapted here
('Anonyma - Eine Frau in Berlin') was published in Switzerland in 1959,
it was greeted with such outrage among Germans the author allowed no
further editions; she of course never revealed her name. Here we are,
fifty years later, and the material is still incendiary and hard to get
your head around. It concerns events that are unspeakable and
As played by the strikingly handsome, elegant Nina Hoss, "Anonyma" is an ash blond who can wear odds and ends as if they were couturier fashions, a journalist fluent in French and Russian, at home in Paris and London, who comes back from assignment to be in the Führer's capital for the final victory she still believes in. The Third Reich for her and her pals seems a time of freshness and energy for Germany. The war is just a blip on the horizon soon to be done with. She parties with fellow supporters of the Fatherland's great endeavor who toast the troops and boast that the buffoonish Russians will fall by the wayside. They don't, and when they invade Berlin and begin the wholesale raping of the German women, she chooses to mete out her favors selectively for her own protection and that of her neighbors in the apartment building. This is the story of how that happens.
When Berlin crumbles apartment dwellers are hiding in the basement, like ghosts; then, like condemned men and women given an uneasy reprieve, they return to living in the remnants of apartments. "Anonyma" moves in with a group of others in a large flat and turns over the studio she occupied with her absent soldier boyfriend Gerd (August Diehl), for whom she keeps a diary of what happens, to an unrepentantly Nazi young woman and the adolescent German soldier boyfriend she hides (Sebastian Urzendowsky), who is armed. This unwise gesture is the pistol we know will go off eventually, endangering everybody.
The film shows only two public events: the invasion, and the official German declaration that the Germans have surrendered Berlin. The period in between is the main focus of the diary and the film. It's not specified but it was about three months.
The film focuses on a handful of neighbors, who include ; two lively sisters (Joerdis Triebel, Rosalie Thomass), a strong-willed widow (Irm Hermann); an elderly bookseller (Katharina Blaschke); a liquor dealer (Maria Hartmann); a pair of lesbian lovers (Sandra Hueller, Isabell Gerschke); a refugee girl in hiding (Anne Kanis) and a stolid octogenarian (Erni Mangold). And there are more, not to mention a half dozen clearly defined Russians, including the high ranking officer's Mongolian guard.
It's a bit difficult to keep track of all these, and Woman in Berlin is best at making us feel close to the narrator and conveying a sense of the chaos and uncertainty when the invasion and the raping begin. There seems to be no control. It's hard to see that anything is going on. The Russians are just there, wandering free, and brutalizing the German women. When these women meet the question they ask each other is not whether but "How often?" Anonyma sleeps with various Russians, willingly and not. Protesting the violations and seeking a protective officer she first becomes involved with Anatol (Roman Gribkov), a pretty, frivolous man who turns out to be not a career soldier but a dairyman. He comes and goes and is no real help. She calls him "a gypsy." Then she finds a battalion commander, Major Rybkin (the excellent, charismatic Yevgeni Sidikhin), who is unresponsive when she confronts him boldly in front of a lot of Russian soldiers, and then comes around to find her. Unlike the Germans, she says later in her diary (which we see her constantly scribbling in pencil), the Russians appreciate an educated woman.
A strength of the film is that it alternates naturally between noise and violence, drunken celebration when Russians and Germans fraternize in the big apartment, and "love," which has lost its usual meaning, but lingers on. These extremes never seem overwrought or manipulative. Here's a time when in a film the fact that nothing makes sense, makes sense. The protagonist recognizes that in the eyes of many she is now a whore, but she questions what a whore is.
Marguerite Duras' screenplay for 'Hiroshima Mon Amour' is poetic and overwrought, ut in its rhythmic repetitions it strongly conveys a sense of the aftermath of trauma isn't found in the somewhat overlong 'Woman in Berlin,' which is simply about the confusion of day-to-survival in a world where morality is turned on its head. As Anonyma knew however and as we see in the film, the defeated must capitulate or die, and the invaders have suffered horribly too. One young soldier reconts in Russian, demanding that she translate to all present, how invading Germans brutally slaughtered all the children in his village while he watched. Even Andreij's wife has been killed by the Germans. And the film shows the range of the then Russian people, the Ukrainians, Caucasians, Mongols, who are to be the Soviet Union.
Though reviewers and commentators seem to think they know what all this material means and proclaim judgments if not on the protagonist, on the filmmaker, this is primarily an example of Germans taking hard looks at repressed material that formerly was too ugly to examine. This isn't an impassioned indictment or defense, but a movie that uses an extraordinary diary (only published in Germany in 2003) to present an admirably complex picture of a crazy time. If it is both remarkable in its focus and at times quite old fashioned in its methods, that's as good a way as any to get things across. The result is both specific and wide-reaching, because there's ample time to ponder a basic issue for civilians in wartime: what does it cost you to survive?
Although I was aware of the awesomeness of German cinema in the past
decades, I was still pleasantly surprised by this film. The title of
the movie implies a specific point of view - the plight of a woman
trapped in Berlin during the last days of WW2. The movie is however far
less black-and-white (metaphorically speaking, of course) than it could
have been. It goes beyond a simplistic right/wrong attitude and instead
puts the audience in a position to ponder how in a war atrocities
escalate and feed on themselves in a typical "chicken and egg" problem.
Even the fact that the book on which the movie is based was met with
outrage when it was first published in the 50's is ultimately part of
There are more complex answers to why horrible things happen in a war, and in the world in general - and Europe has had its share of it - and this film manages to capture these complexities masterfully.
War is not a pleasant experience. Those who follow the news know that
there have been several of our own soldiers accused and prosecuted for
rape and murder in Iraq. In all wars there are local citizens who
prostitute themselves to feed their family. It is often hard to make a
choice between honor and survival.
This is the story of German women at the end of WWII when the Russians have moved into Germany. They are, of course, raped and abused, as women often are by invading armies. The question then becomes, how best to survive. Anonyma (Nina Hoss) decides the best way is to find the best Russian officer to care for her in exchange for sex.
It is easy to see why the Germans and the Russians hated the book, upon which this film is based, when it came out after the war. They are not shown in a good light. That is no surprise. Soldiers usually do not come from Ivy League universities, but from farms and shops.
Nina Hoss is one of the very few women that can look splendid even in rags.
ANONYMA - EINE FRAU IN BERLIN (A Woman In Berlin) is the painfully
sensitive title of this exquisite film from writer/director Max
Färberböck based on a once occult book by 'Anonyma' that has become a
recent bestseller in Germany. It has the courage to tell the story of
what it was like in Berlin as World War II was ending - the time of the
Russian siege of the city just before and just after Hitler committed
suicide, ending the horror of the Nazi regime. While many films have
been made about the German populace and how they coped with the fall of
their 'great Third Reich' country that was to rule the planet, few have
been able to allow the audience to understand the brutalities of war on
the people of Germany in so direct a fashion. It is a film that will
haunt the viewer for a long time, a film that will restore some dignity
to the German people who lived through it, not being part of Hitler's
madness but being trapped in the ugliness that followed his fall.
Anonyma (Nina Hoss) is a journalist, a pretty woman living in the cellars and other hiding places while the Russians took over Berlin. She helps her fellow survivors of the bombing of Berlin, struggling for food and protection. The Russian soldiers, still angry with the gnawing hatred for the Germans from the Siege of Leningrad and the loathing of anything that exists in Hitler's Berlin, drink heavily and seek out the women from hiding to satisfy their insatiable lust. 'Berlin is a German whorehouse' and all women, from children to youngsters to elderly fraus are continually raped and beaten as part of the victors' rage. Anonyma speaks several languages including Russian and decides her only hope for survival is to align with the Commander of the troops, Major Andreij Rybkin (Yevgeni Sidikhin), believing that if she becomes his concubine she will be safe from the random raping by the rest of the soldiers. Their liaisons become more than outlets for the Major and the two gradually bond despite the horrors outside their rendezvous. They survive. Hitler commits suicide and the war is over and the two face the reality of returning to their previous pre-war lives...or can they?
Nina Hoss is brilliant in this difficult role and though the script allows her little to say, she conveys so much through her expressions that words are nearly unnecessary. Likewise, Yevgeni Sidikhin captures the dichotomy of emotional response his character must display, finding just the right balance between the conquering Russian soldier and the compassionate and vulnerable lover. The cinematography by Benedict Neuenfels captures the devastation not only of the buildings but also of the emotions of both sides of the participating groups and Zbigniew Preisner is responsible for the musical score that adds immeasurably to the drama. This is one of the great German films that took many years of maturing to make. It should be seen.
Max Färberböck, known to the world-wide audience since his "Aimee and
Jaguar", shows in this newer film for once not the standard story of
the bad Germans, who, deserving after what they have done, being Nazis,
are liberated by the good Russians, the good Americans and the good
Allies. It shows exactly the same experience that we all, who grew up
in the East Block, had about our Russiand "friends". They came to rape,
to destroy, to violate, to erase. It is a very interesting fact
concerning mass psychology or perhaps better mass-psychosis that nobody
normally speaks about the enormous amount of destruction done or caused
by the liberators of end-World War II Europe. And nobody even mentions
the Stalinist concentration camps. This is why we need films like "Eine
Frau In Berlin".
However, in Färberböcks film, we see the Russians, "like animals, like pigs, an-alphabets, without culture" - as the Russian Major says it in his own words, he, who speaks, according to the main female character "a seldomly high-style Russian". Well, a little bit of "justness" had to be - not ALL Russians are like the "scum" (quotation from the movie) that we see. Interestingly, my Hungarian home-town had been bombed by Americans, but afterward the Russians came like vultures and pitched themselves into the ruins, what was female, was raped, what had been church or synagogue - was emptied and the treasures stolen, a subculture sneaking from the sou-terrain up to the ruins and even profiting from corpses and debris.
A Woman in Berlin (2008)
Imagine the horrors of women caught in a large city during the chaos of war, with occupying troops storming your apartment building day after day. Well, think again. It isn't imaginable. I think even people who live through such things (and we are talking Berlin, 1945 for this movie) the truth is something that is pushed away. Because even watching a movie--a movie!--of these events is unbearable.
Not that the movie is unwatchable. Just the opposite. It's beautifully made, seeming to parallel that other recent German movie about the last days of the Nazi reign, "Downfall," 2004. But unlike that movie, this isn't about political history, or the history of war, or even the dramatization of historical figures as real people. This is a personal story, centering around one woman played by Nina Hoss, and about the repeated rape and abuse of women by the Russian troops for days and weeks on end. There was no escape, no power to complain to, no justice anywhere, anywhere, not German or Russian or even American (assuming they were any better) a mile or two away.
The movie is based on a book, "Anonyma," by a woman whose identity is not revealed, if it is even known (this was her protection even after death). The movie suffers now and then from a sameness, a steady pounding, beginning to end. The parade of horrors is continuous even as relationships develop and the first wave of anarchistic occupiers shifts to more entrenched troops and some general partying. You do cling to some semblance of progression, or of events to stand out from the others, but it's mostly about horribleness.
But maybe that's the way it should be. It was an endless nightmare on every level, even if you (they, these women) survive. In some ways, the end of the war is more believably insane here than in "Downfall" even though they are in many ways comparable movies, comparable moments. Such an array or gritty, believable acting and sets you won't find often. And thankfully, even the sentimental aspects are handled without swelling music and other cinematic tricks found too often this side of the Atlantic.
One last point, whatever you think of the Germans and WWII, here is yet another kind of national acknowledgment and, for many, soul-searching. This is a German film. The Russians don't come off great, for sure, but the Germans are clearly at fault, and are shown that way, and shown as responsible for even greater crimes. There's no glossing over any of it. Watch this movie. It won't be fun, but it'll be stirring and important.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
'A Woman in Berlin' is set in the last days of World War II as the
Soviet Army wreaks vengeance upon the German civilian population
following their invasion of the German capital. The main recipient of
the soldiers' wrath are the women of Berlin who they end up raping in
great numbers. The focus of the movie is one woman, Anonyma, who
attempts to survive in the midst of great degradation and humiliation.
'A Woman in Berlin' is based on the a true-life anonymous diary which
was published in West Germany in 1959. At that time, the diary created
a scandal, where the German public could not accept the graphic
descriptions of women as rape victims. The author withdrew her work
from publication for approximately four decades until it was
republished and accepted by a new generation of Germans.
At the beginning of the film, in a flashback, we see Anonyma in her earlier life as a journalist and unrepentant supporter of the Nazi cause. After the Soviet invasion, Anonyma takes refuge in an apartment building where she's given shelter by an older woman. In one harrowing scene after another, the brutish Russian soldiers raid the apartment building and seek out their female victims. Some women are dragged off the street and raped in dark hallways or alleyways. Unlike the other residents of her building, Anonyma speaks Russian and at first attempts to appeal to someone in charge to stop the brutality. When she approaches one officer and asks to speak to someone in charge, he asks, who do you want to speak towe're all commanders here. When she finally gets to speak to an officer, he asks her why she's so upset, indifferently and nonchalantly pointing out that the rapes only take a few minutes.
After Anonyma is raped herself, she's determined not to be violated again. She first seeks out a lower ranking soldier, Anatol, as a protector but then moves on to Major Andrei Rybkin who is educated like her and they end up forming a bond together. Meanwhile, as the Russian Army gains more control, the residents of the apartment building begin forming more of a relationship with their occupiers. The Russians come off as more complex as they first appear especially in regards to their interactions with the apartment residents.
The détente between the two groups is shattered when a Russian soldier discovers that a young woman, a Nazi sympathizer, has been shielding a young German Solder who is in possession of a gun and a hand grenade. The Russian solder throws the German over the stairway landing and he plunges to his death, stories below. When Anonyma admits that she was aware that the couple had been hiding in the attic, the Major refuses to bring her up on charges. The Major is castigated by his men and eventually he is removed from his command and either sent to Siberia or executed (it's not clear what is his exact fate).
The film ends when Anonyma's soldier-boyfriend returns from the front and she gives him her diary to read (she has been addressing it to him, all along). The boyfriend wants nothing to do with Anonyma as he ashamed that she was raped. The implication is that she allowed herself to be subjected to the humiliation and is now forever, a 'marked woman'. The boyfriend takes off, leaving Anonyma to fend for herself. I question how the boyfriend could have ended up back home without being taken into custody by the Russians, who were rounding up all ex-soldiers and shipping them off to imprisonment in the Soviet Union.
'A Woman in Berlin' commendably handles the rape scenes in a matter-of-fact way. There is nothing salacious about these depictions as the focus is more on how the women maintain their dignity in the face of all the depravity. Oftentimes, the women use humor to brunt the feelings of pain and humiliationother times they express detached objectivity (one woman greets a friend on the street and asks, "how many?")
The film does suggest a number of times that there is a reason for the Russian soldiers' brutish behavior. A German woman tells another that had the Russians did what (our) soldiers did to them, "we would all be dead by now". In another good scene, Anonyma is called upon to translate a Russian soldier's account of the massacre of his family by Germans. And finally, it's revealed that Andrei's own wife was killed by German soldiers. Still, some kind of prologue at the beginning of the film, chronicling the extent the German atrocities committed against the Russian population, would have put things more in its proper context. While the rape of German women by the Russian soldiers was deplorable, the film could have made the soldiers' motivations for doing so, more understandable.
'A Woman in Berlin' is a bit long and sometimes it's difficult to follow everything that's happening. All in all, this is an admirable film, depicting a little talked about period in history with verisimilitude and insight.
I haven't read the diary, but my father has and after we watched this together, he said that they got everything from the compelling book with its important testimony. This review is based upon the version with a two hour running time and six minutes of credits. After Berlin was taken over by Russian soldiers(among them men who had not had sex for four years) at the end of WW2, and raped 100.000 women, leading to the death of 10.000 of them. When this was first revealed in the late 50's, the truth outraged many in the country. It was called an attack on the virtue of female Germans. Fortunately, it was re-released in 2003, and now this excellent adaptation has hit theaters. There is apparently also a longer cut, and if the standard of this is maintained, it is undoubtedly great and worth it. This is gripping from start to finish. It all comes across as real and authentic(helped by the fact that they speak the three languages they are supposed to), and since this is entirely objective and doesn't take any sides in the conflict, you feel for both groups. The acting performances are spot-on. This has some marvelous little touches and details, and it is historically accurate. The characters are complex and psychologically credible. This is immensely well-produced. The camera-work and editing put you right in the situation when this fits, and is in general expertly done. This has extraordinary lighting. There are a few light portions that keep it from being all sad(without it taking away from how touching and engaging the rest of it is). It is tense and unpleasant when it means to be, albeit it isn't outright depressing. The atmosphere is built up well. There is a bit of moderate sexuality, nudity of both genders, brutal violence and disturbing content in this. The DVD comes with a trailer for this and ones for other films. I recommend this warmly to everyone mature enough for it. What happened should never be forgotten. 8/10
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A well made German movie that touches with frankness a very delicate
historical subject: the mass rape of German women by Soviet soldiers
during and after the Battle of Berlin. The movie, which has a good
historical reconstruction of the times, is based on the memories of a
woman, who choose to publish the book anonymously. After her death, it
was revealed that she was a relatively well to do minor functionary in
the Nazi propaganda ministry. She knew several languages including
Russian and was well traveled. Her book was first published in the
1950s in Germany, but its frank portrayal of the sexual relations
between the Germans and the Russians shocked many at the time who felt
it besmirched German women. Also I suppose some people were afraid the
book could be accused of Nazi revisionism. As a result, the book
languished in obscurity for many decades afterward, and it was only
republished, with great public success, in 2003, well after the Cold
war ended and the author died.
According to the movie, the Russians engaged in rape not because they were sadistic (very few of them are portrayed this way) but because they have a very natural urge for sex and they had few available Russian women around among the troops. In this, the movie disagrees with the feminist adage that rape is not about sex but about power. The Russian soldiers were so starved of sex that they even rape older German women in their 60s or even 70s. As shown in this film, German women at first were obviously shocked at being raped, but later would more or less adapt to the situation and even joke about it, and seek powerful Russians as lovers, to protect themselves from mass rapes by drunken, lowly soldiers. The protagonist here seeks as a lover a Russian commander that seems to be quite a decent fellow, but who would eventually find there are problems in getting too near to her.
I think that in general the movie is quite fair in its portrayal of the Russians troops. This doesn't mean that if the movie is ever shown in Russia (I seriously doubt that) the audience would feel very comfortable in the portrayal of their countrymen: most of the Soviet soldiers appear here as loud, brash, vulgar, many times drunk. But they are not portrayed as sadistic. Personally, I don't think one can make a moral equivalence between the rape of German women (which is obviously reprehensible) and the genocidal behavior of the German army in the Eastern front during World War II, killing millions of innocent Jews and Slavs (the movie should have mentioned more about the latter, I think). That objection aside, this is a fine movie.
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