In a Twist, Germans as Targets in WWII Melodrama Habermann


A World War II melodrama with a hook—affluent Germans as sympathetic victims—Habermann does a credible job of personalizing a period of the war largely unknown outside the Czech Republic. The film, adapted by screenwriter Wolfgang Limmer from Josef Urban’s novel, spans 1938 to 1945 as the bucolic, ethnically mixed Sudetenland is annexed by the Nazis. Longtime resident and mill owner August Habermann (Mark Waschke), a German, and his wife, Jana (Hannah Herzsprung), struggle to assimilate into the new order even as their Czech neighbors are harassed, pitted against one another, and, in a vengeful act by a calculating local sturmbannführer (Ben Becker), slaughtered en masse. When Hitler is defeated, and the occupiers flee, Habermann and his kin become targets of the surviving townspeople’s rage. Director Juraj Herz (who helmed the similarly themed 1968 cult horror-comedy The Cremator) forgoes the gauzy nostalgia that renders most current WWII movies toothless, but Habermann‘s matter-of-fact style eventually turns monotonous. (Cramming nearly a decade’s worth of history into just more than an hour and a half doesn’t help.) Still, the film effectively shows how brutal resentments surface in even the tightest community when paranoia and hatred replace law, and its climactic act of cathartic violence represents a loss on almost every level.