A Woman in Berlin 2.0 stars

German dramatization of an incendiary wartime diary published at the end of the Fifties by “Anonyma,” an account of the Russian occupation after the fall of Berlin. Filmmaker Max Färberböck narrows his gaze, and ours, to a single neglected facet of the war: the ancient and abiding practice of mass rape as one of the unquestioned spoils of the conqueror, and the pragmatic survival methods of its victims. The protagonist’s — the diarist’s — eventual arrangement with the chiselled and lacquered Red Army commander, a “pact with the devil” to insulate her from taking on all comers (pun sternly discouraged), is a war-story commonplace. But the narrowness of focus and the wealth of rub-your-nose-in-it circumstantial detail go beyond the common. One woman can bump into an old friend in the street and ask without preamble, “How many?”— and we understand fully what she’s talking about. Färberböck’s tough-minded nonjudgmentalism does not exactly find its purest expression, its kindred spirit, in the grab-bag vacillation and noncommitment of the visual style. His willy-nilly switches in approach — the firmly planted dramatic up-shot alternated with the hand-held scramble, the taut deep-focus composition set beside the mushy telephoto compression — give the spectacle a gumminess as treacherous, in its way, as the subject matter. The soaring interest of one image offers no assurance against the plummeting interest of the next. Nina Hoss, Yevgeni Sidikhin, Rudiger Vogler, Irm Herrmann. 2008.

Duncan Shepherd

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