Once again exploring women's experience within the dark folds of Germany's haunted history, Margarthe von Trotta turns to a subject rarely treated in Holocaust films: the fate of "Aryan" Germans and the Jews they married. New York City, the present. Having just buried her husband, 60-year-old Ruth Weinstein (Jutta Lampe) dutifully prepares her apartment for the seven days of Jewish ritual mourning known as shivah. Her grown daughter Hannah (Maria Schrader) is bewildered by her mother's sudden embrace of orthodox tradition, but she even more disturbed by Ruth's intense dislike of Hannah's gentile finacee, Luis (Fedja Van Huet). The mystery of Ruth's odd behavior is partially explained by a stranger whose arrival visibly upsets Ruth. The woman introduces herself to Hannah as Ruth's cousin, Rachel (Carola Regnier), but Hannah is even more surprised by Rachel's second revelation: Ruth, a German-born Jew, had lived with Aryan woman named Lena Fischer for years after the rest of Ruth's family were deported to concentration camps. In essence, this woman, of whom Ruth has never spoken, saved her life. Hannah's curiosity about her mother's past leads her all the way to Berlin where she meets the now 90-year old Lena (Doris Schade). Passing herself off as a student researching the Third Reich, Hannah asks her mother's savior to tell her about her life during the Nazi era. In addition to her mother's story, Hannah finds out that Lena (played throughout the lengthy, slate-colored flashbacks by Katja Riemann) has quite a story of her own. Born into a powerful, aristocratic German family, Lena was virtually disowned when she dared marry Fabian Fischer (Martin Feifel), a celebrated Jewish violinist. When the infamous Nuremberg Laws, which were passed to legally persecute German Jews but did offer meager protection to the Jewish spouses of Aryan Germans, were finally broken, Fabian was rounded up and sent to a crowded "collection center" on the Rosenstrasse. In a remarkable show of courage, Lena, with little Ruth now at her side, stood watch on the frozen cobble-stone street with the wives of other prisoners, demanding their husbands' return. If any story that unfolded during those nightmare years could be said to have a somewhat happy ending, this is one; it's surprising that it's never been told before. Von Trotta, however, does an excellent job. The wrap around story involving Hannah's troubled relationship with her mother is never satisfactorily resolved, but the flashbacks are remarkable for their dramatic power. As a treatment of yet another unexplored corner of the Nazi nightmare, the film is revelatory; needless to say it's also heartbreaking.
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- Released: 2003
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: Once again exploring women's experience within the dark folds of Germany's haunted history, Margarthe von Trotta turns to a subject rarely treated in Holocaust films: the fate of "Aryan" Germans and the Jews they married. New York City, the present. Having… (more)