A Woman in Berlin is yet another film that explores the fall of Germany from the point of view of a Nazi sympathizer. As the main character, who remains nameless, says in the beginning of the film “We all breathed the same air, and it was intoxicating”. The beautiful Nina Hoss stars as a single woman trying to survive the stray bullets and the multiple rape assaults brought on by the Russian army during the fall of Berlin.
The film is originally based on the controversial memoir by the same name, and it stays true to the source material for the entirety of its length. Director Max Färberböck succeeds in capturing the moral confusion of his main character, a female journalist living in Berlin in 1945. As the Russian troops sweep through the city, she finds herself, along with every other woman in her building, subjected to rape and sexual assaults every single day, as the Russian soldiers begin to implement their own idea of justice and revenge against the atrocities of the Nazi army. As it becomes harder and harder to escape the unwanted attempts, some of the women decide to offer company to high-ranking officers in exchange for protection from the night raids and the humiliation, a decision that will mark them for life.
When the memoir was first published in 1953 it received incredibly harsh opposition from people who believed these women where shameless to dignify themselves and their country in such a way, but are they really? The beauty of A Woman in Berlin lies in its multi-layered complexity. No one is innocent, and everyone deserves punishment, yet the vulnerability of all the characters represented on-screen can make the viewer’s moral compass extremely indecisive. It is a beautiful portrait of women in war-time that is rarely presented, and almost never with such precision.
Another film that deals with similar themes springs to mind, the 2011 Chinese drama The Flowers of War. However, in the case of Yimou Zhang’s epic, the shades of good and evil were easily separable. A Woman in Berlin manages to deliver a much more realistic tale, emotionally charged with all the human emotions that one would expect from a similarly chaotic time. It forces its viewer to ultimately gape in awe and sympathy at the strength of these women, who dare to make jokes out of their rape stories, and to simply survive.