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Woman in Berlin, A (DVD Review)

10 Oct, 2009 By: Billy Gil

Prebook 10/13/09; Street 11/10/09
Box Office $0.2 million
$27.99 DVD
In German and Russian with English subtitles.
Stars Nina Hoss, Evgeny Sidikhin, Irm Hermann.

Some art is meant to entertain, while other art is meant to tell the truth. A Woman in Berlin, the filmed version of a woman’s account of the rapes of German women by Russian soldiers that took place at the end of World War II in Berlin, falls into the latter category. Yet at the same time it is extraordinary, gripping and undoubtedly one of the year’s most unforgettable films.

Nina Hoss plays a woman whose “name does not matter,” a journalist in Berlin when the Red Army conquers the city. She and the other women of Berlin become the victims of systematic rape by the soldiers, who loaf around the city like still vultures waiting for easy prey. Hoss’s character takes matters into her own hands by deciding who “gets” her — a Major who then protects her and her housemates from further harm.

Director Max Färberböck’s film is beautifully shot, filled with the vibrant colors of daylight contrasted with the dank basements and attics in which the civilians hide. And his script, adapted from the book Eine Frau in Berlin, is tasteful and full of sardonic wit.

The film successfully reminds us that atrocities happen everywhere, and to everyone, in war — in one key scene, a Russian soldier relates to the German civilians he is with that German soldiers mercilessly killed children in his hometown. Detractors may find fault with the length of the film (it’s just over two hours), and some of the characters are lost within the greater story of Hoss’s character and the Major, and their complex love story.

What is faultless in the film is Hoss’s performance. Her anonymous character emits strength even as she shivers at the horrors happening to her and those around her, exuding a numbness that is still somehow knowing and alive.

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