A Woman in Berlin
Movie mini-review: Ann Hornaday on 'A Woman in Berlin'
Friday, November 6, 2009
I cannot tell a lie: I almost didn't hang in with "A Woman in Berlin" through its first hour, when an unnamed German woman (Nina Hoss) living in a demolished Berlin in 1945 is repeatedly raped and brutalized by the Russian soldiers who invaded and occupied the city in the waning days of World War II. But after its lurid stage has been set, Max Faerberboeck's adaptation of Anonyma's diary -- controversially published in the '50s -- takes a much more somber and morally complex turn, as the protagonist and her mostly female neighbors proceed to navigate a city that's become a physical and psychic no-man's land.
At one point, the armature of "A Woman in Berlin" becomes Anonyma's relationship with Maj. Andreij Rybkin (Yevgeni Sidikhin), an alliance of constantly shifting boundaries and bonds. Variations on their dynamic, in which power, desire and denial jockey fractiously for pride of place, play out on nearly every floor of Anonyma's apartment building, which becomes a densely layered hive of compromise, survival and, ultimately, breathtaking hypocrisy. "A Woman in Berlin" joins such wonderful recent films as "The Lives of Others" and "The Baader Meinhof Complex" as a clear-eyed portrait of a highly charged chapter in Germany's history, a history that once again proves rewarding fodder for an alert artistic imagination.
Unrated. At the Avalon. Contains adult themes, sexuality, nudity and violence. In German and Russian with English subtitles.