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Film Review: A Woman in Berlin

A Woman in Berlin (2008)

This film is not for the faint of heart. Based on the anonymous memoirs of a Berlin woman, the story unflinchingly depicts the brutal occupation of that city by the conquering Russian army in 1945. It is a well known fact that the female population of Germany was severely victimized by way of mass rape, but this is the first time I have seen it portrayed on film. Due to Germany's guilt in the war, many people have tended to look the other way in regards to crimes committed against the German people, or justify them as the aggressor's due comeuppance. Whatever your opinion on the matter, the plight of these German women was a tragedy, and this film pays tribute to them.

Upon entering Germany, the Red army essentially raped, looted and pillaged with reckless abandon. Several times in the film, Russian soldiers refer to Germany as "a giant whorehouse," which concisely sums up their view of German women. With the majority of German men either dead or in POW camps, German women were left to face this onslaught alone. Our anonymous protagonist, played brilliantly by Nina Hoss, was a journalist who once lived in Moscow, thus she speaks a bit of Russian. This would not be enough to save her though, and she along with the rest of the women are subjected to brutal and repeated rapes. In one scene, when two friends are reunited after several tortuous months apart, they glance at each other knowingly, while one casually asks, "how often?"

One of the strange aspects of the story is that after a while, the rapists and their victims begin to settle in to an almost normal relationship. The soldiers come to their apartments at night, and they drink and dance and laugh together. Our main character even develops a curiously sincere relationship with a Russian Major who she seeks out for her own protection. So not only is this a chilling film about the brutality of war, but also of the resilient and adaptable nature of the human spirit under the worst of circumstances. While at times brutal and hard to watch, this is a compelling piece of history and a story that deserves to be told. The film is in German and Russian with English subtitles. 8.5 out of 10.

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