Wednesday, December 22, 2010

"Rosenstrasse": Back story of 1943 protest in Berlin told from a modern family's perspective

It’s pretty common that when people want to make movies, they want to tell the backstory of some traumatic event or sequence in the past, which over time has become a mystery to others.

To avoid making it either a history 101 lesson, or a possible exercise in self-indulgence, one has to set up some relationships in the present day, facing challenges that lead the characters to dig back into the past.

Such is the case with the 2003 German film “Rosenstrasse”, about the week-long protests by Gentile wives of Jewish husbands held in a building on Rosenstrasse in Berlin in 1943. The protest could not become a model of how to resist the Reich, but rather in the events that would unfold it would show the intensity of blood relations as many people experience them.  The protest, and cinematic depiction, could be taken as a warning: a group may believe it is favored by those in power, who give it a better life, only to fall into its own trap.

The film starts in New York in 2000 when Ruth Weinstein (Jutta Lampe) goes into formal Orthodox mourning at the passing of her husband. Hannah (Maria Schrader) is puzzled, particularly when a cousin shows up with a picture of a woman Lena (Doris Schade), now 90, who had helped Ruth escape as a little girl. Hannah goes to Berlin to interview Lena, while pretending to be a professional journalist investigation cross-faith marriage.

There is a scene at a Berlin train station from which I took a train to Dresden during a trip in May 1999.

The film, sharp looking in full wide screen, builds up emotional intensity, using some classical music, including the Franck violin sonata. The structure rather reminds one of “Sophie’s Choice.”

The film is directed by Margarethe von Trotta and was originally distributed by Samuel Goldwyn Films, but now the DVD comes from Sony.

The closest I could find for a site of the film is SG’s catalog here (look in 2004).

Wikipedia attribution link for Berlin picture.

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