Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Rosenstrasse (2003)

Once in a while, it's good to be reminded that the Second World War is not just about explosions, but also about people living far from the fronts.

Since the end of the Second World War, Ruth (Jutta Lampe), a German-born secular-minded Jewish woman, has been living in New York City. On the day of her husband's death, she suddenly becomes orthodox-minded. Her relatives, especially her daughter Hannah (Maria Schrader), don't understand why Ruth expects them to stay away from their day job for 30 days or even to stop picking up the phone. In order to understand how Ruth is so shaken, Hannah decides to explore her mom's past after Ruth's cousin (Carola Regnier) had shown her a picture. In this picture, we see a young Ruth standing next to the gentile woman who saved her from the horrors of the Holocaust.

This is why Hannah decides to go to Germany in order to interview this gentile woman named Lena Fischer (Doris Schade) - née Von Eschenbach. In order to get her information, Hannah poses as a historian studying intermarriages between Jews and gentiles during the Third Reich. During the interview, Lena tells the story of a week in 1943. During that time, Lena (Katja Riemann) did everything to get her Jewish husband, Fabian Israel Fischer (Martin Feifel), out of a detention building on the Rosenstrasse Street in Berlin.

Because she's not alone, Lena will join other gentile women who are married to Jewish man and who refused to divorce from their husband despite the pressure from the Nazi government. Together, these women will gather on a daily basis before the detention building with the hope that their husband will be freed. Through this story, Hannah will also discover a past that her mom, Ruth, has always hidden and also how Lena saved Ruth.

Although the film is told from a German point of view, Rosenstrasse is by no means ignoring the fact that German Jews were mistreated by the Nazi government. At the same time, since it talks about mixed marriages between Jews and gentiles, the film doesn't try to make this social fact more important than it was back in the days of the Third Reich. However, the film might leave a bitter taste in the mouth of some people. With that said, Rosenstrasse is a beautiful film about people - in this case the gentile women - finding that they're powerless victims who don't control the historical circumstances they live in. At the same time, these women are characters that one can easily root for because they cling to their individual hopes and also their value of tolerance in a time when this idea wasn't really popular.

Moreover, by going back in forth between the Rosenstrasse Street of 1943 and the one in the twenty-first century, Von Trotta shows her cleverness. Even though, the street doesn't look like the it used to be in 1943, as Von Trotta points it out, it still bears the wounds caused by the Holocaust. As a well-written and uniformly well-acted film, Rosenstrasse certainly has its narrative flaws. In fact, I could have lived without the parts in the present day.

Rating: 4/5

Origin:Germany (2003)
Length:136 minutes
Screenplay:Pamela Katz and Margarethe von Trotta
Director:Margarethe von Trotta
Starring:Katja Riemann, Maria Schrader and Svea Lohde

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