'In Berlin,' The Diary Of One Who Stayed

Nina Hoss in 'A Woman in Berlin' i i

hide captionBased on a diary published in 1959, A Woman in Berlin centers on Anonyma (Nina Hoss), a German struggling to survive the Red Army's sacking of the Nazi capital.

Strand Releasing
Nina Hoss in 'A Woman in Berlin'

Based on a diary published in 1959, A Woman in Berlin centers on Anonyma (Nina Hoss), a German struggling to survive the Red Army's sacking of the Nazi capital.

Strand Releasing

A Woman in Berlin

  • Director: Max Farberbock
  • Genre: Foreign
  • Running Time: 131 minutes

Not Rated

With: Nina Hoss, Evgeny Sidikhin, August Diehl, Sandra Huller

Evgeny Sidikhin in 'A Woman in Berlin' i i

hide captionAndrej (Evgeny Sidikhin) is a Soviet officer who becomes Anonyma's protector — and whose developing feelings soon complicate his career.

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Evgeny Sidikhin in 'A Woman in Berlin'

Andrej (Evgeny Sidikhin) is a Soviet officer who becomes Anonyma's protector — and whose developing feelings soon complicate his career.

Strand Releasing
Irm Hermann and Evgeny Sidikhin in 'A Woman in Berlin' i i

hide captionThrough Andrej and his compatriots, Anonyma and her neighbors enjoy a kind of protection from rape and other reprisals at the hands of Berlin's occupiers. It's a survival strategy for the Germans — and a politically risky gambit for the Soviets involved.

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Irm Hermann and Evgeny Sidikhin in 'A Woman in Berlin'

Through Andrej and his compatriots, Anonyma and her neighbors enjoy a kind of protection from rape and other reprisals at the hands of Berlin's occupiers. It's a survival strategy for the Germans — and a politically risky gambit for the Soviets involved.

Strand Releasing

Set during the final 10 days of the Third Reich, A Woman in Berlin observes as the savagery Hitler's troops have inflicted on their Slavic neighbors rebounds at last on Germany. The targets of Soviet reprisal are not German soldiers, but the wives, sisters, mothers and daughters they've left behind.

Red Army troops pillage what's left of Berlin, seizing many of the habitable buildings for their own use. But the principal expression of their wrath is rape — a difficult crime to depict on film.

If they're too explicit, rape scenes risk being prurient. But if a movie cuts away from the crime, as A Woman in Berlin does, the horror can be undercut. Writer-director Max Farberbock's script may be true to the facts, but it feels a little soft — especially when the film turns into a sort of love story.

The scenario is based on a diary, first published in Germany in 1959 and credited simply to Anonyma. (Upon her 2001 death, the author was revealed to be Marta Hillers.) She wrote the pages for her husband, who apparently did not read them with sympathy. Neither did the rest of Germany, which rejected the book until it was republished almost 50 years later.

Anonyma (Jerichow's Nina Hoss) proves unusually well equipped to deal with Soviet invaders. An attractive and educated photojournalist who had lived in several European capitals before the war, she speaks fluent Russian. That's not enough, however, to save her from being raped soon after the Soviets seize her neighborhood.

Deciding to face the peril on something resembling her own terms, Anonyma looks for a protector among the occupiers. She finds herself juggling two, Anatol and Andrej. The latter (played by Evgeny Sidikhin) is a widowed major who defends not only Anonyma but also her neighbors. (The ensemble cast includes Irm Herman, veteran of 18 Rainer Werner Fassbinder films, and Rudiger Vogler, who's appeared in almost as many of Wim Wenders'.)

An impromptu salon develops. Germans and Russians drink vodka together, and Andrej's loyal Mongolian bodyguard demonstrates throat-singing. But safeguarding a German, even one who's a Russian-speaking beauty, is not a politically savvy move for a Soviet officer.

Using sets and computer effects, the director conjures a vision of bombed-out Berlin that boosts the movie's gravity and authenticity. His action sequences use the standard contemporary techniques, including hand-held camera and quick cuts, but do so effectively.

A Woman in Berlin isn't — indeed, can't be — as frisky as Aimee and Jaguar, Farberbock's 1999 account of an affair between a German officer's wife and a secretly Jewish woman in wartime Berlin. Yet it shifts away all too quickly from the terrors experienced by Anonyma and hundreds of thousands of other German women.

Some of the most powerful moments come from the text of the diary itself, which is candid and unflinching. Anonyma doesn't deny, for example, that Nazism was "intoxicating."

In one unforgettable scene, two German kids play obliviously as a Soviet soldier recounts how German troops massacred the children in his village. A Woman in Berlin doesn't justify retribution, but in such moments it does clarify the horrible logic of vengeance.

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