Sunday, 26 September 2010

Anonyma - A Woman in Berlin, Max Faerberboeck, Germany 2008

Max Faerberboeck's film tells the story of a German woman, Anonyma, whose real name is never disclosed, experiencing the liberation of Berlin by the Red Army.

The blanket raping of women by Russian soldiers was rampant during the battle of Berlin, lasting from January 1945 until the beginning of May. In order to protect herself, Anonyma finds herself a high-ranking Red Army soldier, Major Rybkin, assuming that devoting herself to him alone would shield her from being raped by other soldiers. Besides being strikingly beautiful, Anonyma is also obviously intelligent and level-headed. She knows that war is about the survival of the fittest, and with her belief in Hitler's Germany shattered, to her it is no longer about ideology but about saving her own skin.

Whilst Anonyma becomes the concubine of Major Rybkin, her husband is fighting in Hitler's Wehrmacht. When he comes home at the end of the film, his disillusion and disappointment receive another blow when he realises that while he was risking his life for his country in a war that had long been lost, his wife enjoyed the company of a soldier from the enemy army.

Much has been made of this, the wholesale raping of German women by the Red Army, particularly following the new edition of Anonyma's book in Germany a few years ago. It is to the film's credit, however, that this is put into perspective by also mentioning the atrocities committed by the German army, and by making clear that it was, after all, Nazi Germany who was the perpetrator in the first place.

Although considering that Anonyma is the film's protagonist (as well as the author of the book upon which the film based), it is a part with relatively little dialogue. However, Nina Hoss, who plays Anonyma, excels at making her emotions, her thoughts, her qualms, visible even without the use words. Hoss plays Anonyma as a woman whose actions are easy to relate to, yet who nevertheless remains an ambiguous figure throughout. For, to me at least, she does come across as part opportunist, to put it mildly. After all, in the beginning she was a staunch supporter of Hitler's Germany. But like many Germans - or, perhaps, all people whose convictions begin to crumble in the face of defeat - Anonyma bends with the wind, and, thinking only of her own survival, she takes up with a Russian soldier. Again, while this may not be an usual decision considering the fate that would have awaited her, I couldn't help wondering where she really stood ideologically and what went on inside her head.

This may well be the best thing about Faerberboeck's film: Highlighting that while millions lost their lives in the trenches, battlefields and concentration camps, all for the sake of ideologies and convictions, people at home fought their own war. However, for them, too, it was all about one thing only: Survival.