A woman tries to survive the invasion of Berlin by the Soviet troops during the last days of World War II.A woman tries to survive the invasion of Berlin by the Soviet troops during the last days of World War II.A woman tries to survive the invasion of Berlin by the Soviet troops during the last days of World War II.
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.
- Apr 5, 2010