Anonyma - Eine Frau in Berlin (A Woman in Berlin) Reviews
In this real-life story (inspired by the anonymous writings of a journalist woman who lived in the conquered city of Belin during the final stages of the war,) is a true work of art and storytelling. It's inspired and striking all at once. No screenwriter, however clever or prominent, could have ever been able to come up with a story so divisive and emotionally manipulative. No, only real life could have concocted such a miserably cold and true depiction of event rarely portrayed in film.
Our anonymous woman takes us on a journey through her world, and the world of those remaining in Berlin during the end of Hitler's Germany. In essence, we see that the remaining civilians (comprised primarily of seniors, young children and the so-called "weaker" sex) were victimized brutally by the invading (or should it read: liberating) forces of the Red Army (Russia.) Furthermore, it is with brilliant efficacy that our anonymous writer conveys that is was these women who were the remaining soldier's on the front lines of Germany's scarred urban battlefields.
We meet our protagonist in an era before the height of war. We meet her in a time in history where we may presume her to be a sympathizer of hate and prejudice. She is vibrant and idealistic about the future of her country, blindly subscribing to manipulative ideas and philosophies that were shrouded in a blanket of national pride.
Flash forward to a time where misery prevails and the tables are turned. Many themes are evident in this film and is reveals and unravels itself slowly, yet efficiently -- like the speed at which a woman sheepishly undresses for her male predator moments before her body's inevitable ravaging.
Obviously, the plight of women is magnificently portrayed in this film. More specifically: the dismal day-to-day living of the German women who were to be punished for the wrong-doings of their country's leaders, none of whom they'd ever met.
Defenseless and battered, the women must fend for themselves as their remaining men find themselves spirited away to Siberia or worse for the crimes that their father have committed. It is with great success that other shades are painted around what is considered to be right and wrong in times of war.
The are a myriad moral subtexts to be gathered. Namely, who is the liberator and what does liberating mean? How do you avoid succumbing to the thirst with which revenge nags? What lines must be crossed or avoided in order to keep yourself from becoming the very essence of the hate you've hoped to extinguish?
Ultimately, as we learn from our anonymous heroine, such judgments are irrelevant when your only goal in life is to remain attached to life itself. Your perception of the world and its concepts can never remain in your mind unscathed or unblemished. That way of seeing the world will always be altered and affected by the events that transpire in it. Therefore, the way you love; the way you fight; the way you live will never be the same again.
"A Woman in Berlin" starts on April 26, 1945 as Soviet troops are advancing through a Berlin populated mostly by women and old men who are nervous at the possibility of the advancing troops seeking revenge for Nazi atrocities. One Soviet unit is frustrated by not being allowed to advance to the Reichstag and start out by holding a block party in the streets while awaiting further orders. Things quickly turn bad for the citizens when raids are made into the apartment buildings to rape the women.(One of the scariest moments in the film involves a quiet conversation about syphilis around the dinner table.) Inside of one is a journalist(Nina Hoss) who has lived in London, Paris and Moscow and drawn back by patriotism to her native Berlin while her husband Gerd(August Diehl) is serving in the army. Her Russian is good enough to communicate and she is knowledgeable enough to recognize rank to find Andrei(Yevgeni Sidikhin), a major, to cut a deal for protection but he refuses to help. So, she works her way down the food chain to Anatol(Roman Gribkov), a lieutenant, who comes and goes as he pleases. To her, this is not rape, maybe prostitution. However, it is still rape, even without the violence, because she has no choice not to have sex. Whatever the case, the women have nothing to be ashamed of. It is the men who do.
Upwards of 2 million German women/girls (from 8 up) were raped as Soviet troops entered into what was once East Prussia. The psychological and physical damage that came with these rapes were horrendous. As with Bosnia in the aftermath of the Yugoslav wars, abortion rates in Germany skyrocketed as did cases of STD (syphilis becomes a serious worry among the women, and Russian troops, in the film). Ofcourse in the eastern side this was not something that was paid much attention to historiography since the Soviets were considered to be honorable liberators and the reality of a mass of rapists could not quite conform with the propaganda.
The film deals with the subject just as it should be dealt: through the eyes of a woman, and only a woman. One would imagine a person completely destroyed, with no sense of hope; and yet the protagonist, alongside the other women, do find ways to cope with the situation. At one rather disturbing point they find humor in discussing the various "lovers" they have picked up, even criticizing their "lack of originality".
*** 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 to?we'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 humiliation?other 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'm not necessarily sure "morality" is turned upside down as the reviewer suggests, as its a matter of survival. The narrator was gifted with the talent of languages, and she used that to her own advantage. To me, it seemed that the older women who lived in the same flat as she took advantage of the "favors" she was giving out to reap the benefits she earned, mainly safety and plenty of food.
I liked this film in that it represented the horrors of war from all sides and didn't vilify one side in order to make our narrator more sympathetic or tragic. The movie did a good job of humanizing the horror of surviving a war on all those involved.
The one issue that makes this film so very unique is something that the reviewer touched on briefly, but didnt explain in detail to really showcase the context that lends to the films' significance. Its just NOT another rap during war occupation story, no more important/horrific than what other peoples have gone through in different parts of the world.
Post Hitler Germany and the psychology of the generations of Germans that followed deserve explanation. From what I've read and observed from movies (there are two I can vividly remember watching but can't remember the names at this time), it seems that the children and grandchildren of Nazi Germans couldn't understand why their forefathers just couldnt' refuse to go along with the mass crowd/brainwashing. Also there was such a force to push aside that ugly marr of history that no one wanted to acknowledge in depth and accept accountability for the war crimes that took place. One of the movies I saw was about a museum exibit that put forth proof that every day Germans took it upon themselves to brutalize various Eastern European and Jewish populations, that it was indeed NOT just an order given from the high ranks and carried out by the rank and file soldiers. Modern day Germans (time was in the 90's) were extremely uncomfortable with that notion and were rioting against the exhibit. The 2nd film I saw was The Baader-Meinhof Complex which was actually nominated for a Foreign Language Golden Globe this past year. This movie was about the origins and passion of the RAF who were the forefathers of global terrorist acts. They formed in order to rebel against established political authority with the hope of preventing the brainwashing of the Third Reicht of previous generations. So having seen both of these movies and done a bit of reading of the post WWII German psyche, I understand why the timing of release of this movie is so poignant. Else, it just becomes another post war occupation rape and pillage story.