One of the best of a new breed of indigenous movies prying open the Pandora’s box of German suffering in World War II, A Woman in Berlin takes on the mass rape of German women by victorious Russian soldiers entering the country in 1945. Skillfully adapted and directed by Max Färberböck (who also made the terrific 2000 drama Aimee & Jaguar) from the anonymously published diaries of a Berlin rape victim, the film is a properly twisted love story between two enemies, each clinging to a deluded and destructive patriotism. Played by the scorching Nina Hoss, last seen in Christian Petzold’s Yella and Jerichow, the unnamed woman is a cultivated and cunning sophisticate determined to seize control over who gets to ravish her; her protector (Yevgeni Sidikhin) is a Russian officer whose innate decency is muddled by his unquestioning loyalty to Stalin. Their impossible bond plays out against a fragile collusion—forever breaking out into naked hatred—between German women and Russian soldiers with nothing in common but the fact that they have all survived the war. Graphic but never exploitative, A Woman in Berlin is a bracing inquiry into the limits of morality in extreme situations that avoids lapses into lazy relativism. Twice in the movie, Hoss’s Anonyma is asked if she’s a fascist; twice, she refuses to respond. Her answer lies in the haunting question she poses to her lover and foe: How do we go on living?
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 15, 2009