AGNIESZKA HOLLAND'S "Angry Harvest," a West German work nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign-Language film, is a gripping portrait of one woman's struggle for survival coupled with one man's moral struggle.
Elisabeth Trissenaar, a prominent member of the Berlin Theater, plays Rosa, a sophisticated upper-class Viennese Jew who becomes separated from her husband when they escape a train bound for a Nazi death camp. Starving and sick, she is discovered in a Polish forest by a wealthy farmer, Leon Wolny, who protects her from the Gestapo and slowly nurses her back to health.
Armin Mueller-Stahl, a West German television star, is penetrating as Wolny, a middle- aged bachelor incapable of interacting with women. Humbled by his son-of-a-stableman roots, he's in awe of Rosa's once-prominent social status. But transformed by vodka, the brutish farmer establishes a pattern of mental and sexual abuse.
Rosa is frozen with anxiety and depression but slowly realizes she will have to make a trade-off to save her life.
Austrian-born Trissenaar is painfully good as Rosa, whose will to live, even under the worst of conditions, is heartwrenching.
Gunther Kortwich's audio work sharpens the plot's nasty edge, giving the sounds of daily living -- cooking, washing, the heavy breathing of lovemaking -- a haunting and unsettling clarity.
Although occupation troops are rarely seen, Holland, who with Paul Hengge co-wrote the screenplay based on Herrmann Field's novel of the same name, skillfully saturates the film with their evil presence.
Rosa manages to convince Wolny to buy a neighboring orchard from a once-rich Jewish landowner desperate to buy a refuge for himself and his daughter. But he acts too slowly and reaps the angry harvest of the title.
ANGRY HARVEST (Unrated) -- At the KB Paris, in German with English subtitles.