ANONYMA – EINE FRAU IN BERLIN (ANONYMA: A WOMAN IN BERLIN)
Germany, 2008, 131 minutes, Colour.
Nina Hoss, Yevgeni Sidikhin, Rudiger Vogler, Juliane Kohler.
Directed by Max Farberbock.
In 1959, an anonymous journalist published a memoir based on her experiences and those of other Berlin women during the final weeks of World War II and its immediate aftermath. It focused on the exploitation of the women at the hand of the victorious Russian military, on rape and continued sexual oppression. In the late 1950s, this was considered taboo material and the book was not re-published until recent years and the identity of the author remains anonymous.
This theme could become more important for films about war. Rape has been used as a weapon in African civil wars and made headlines in the 1990s with the wars in the Balkans. It is a subject that needs greater exposure since, in the past, nations have tended not to acknowledge this horrendous experience of war and the sufferings and humiliation of the women. The press kit for the film indicates that General Eisenhower had decreed before the D- Day landing that anyone who committed rape would be executed. The first rape occurred six hours after the invasion.
Anonyma becomes a significant German film in its portrayal of this crucial period. Where the film makes a challenging point is that Anonyma and many of the other women portrayed were deeply imbued with Nazi faith and German destiny. An opening sequence of the Nazi glitterati at a party extolling the regime reminds us of the commitment to Hitler's ideals by many Germans.
The rest of this quite long film begins on April 26th 1945 with the women, children and the elderly of a typical street in Berlin, from a typical apartment block, are hiding in the basement from the advancing Russian troops. When they tentatively emerge, treated to some potatoes, it is clear that the Russian men, angry with the Germans who have oppressed them for four years and killed their loved ones and heady with the achievement of conquering Berlin, are going to take advantage of the women and exploit them. They are rough, even brutal men, many of them, not always following orders from their commanders.
Nina Hoss plays the anonymous journalist who returned from overseas appointments to be in Germany for its triumph and has farewelled her husband to the front. She is a strong personality and, while she is raped, she also allows herself to enter into a relationship with a more cultured officer. She supports the range of women who are allowed back into the apartments as well as secretly sheltering a frightened young woman. We see her writing up these experiences for her husband in some exercise books, writing about the detail of what happened day by day up to the surrender of Germany and the early weeks of uneasy peace. She also writes up her feelings and her ways of coping.
The film is worth seeing just to immerse oneself in the experience of the Berliners (ideologically unsympathetic as they are) in encountering the vanquishing Russians whom they despise but realising that they will have to collaborate with them to survive. We see the street fighting and battles, the arbitrary deaths, scavenging for food, the women terrified that the Russians will turn on them.
It would be important to compare this review with the perspectives of those written by women who will be disturbed by the content and empathise with the pain and suffering of the women.
1.The written memoir, published in 1959, suppressed, the anonymity of the author, revived in the 21st century?
2.Women’s issues, women in war, exploitation and humiliation, the surfacing of these issues with the wars of the 1990s and consciousness in the 21st century?
3.Germany and the Nazi era, the Germans pro-Hitler, the sense of destiny, the experience of defeat, behaviour and the consequences?
4.The re-creation of the period, 1945, Berlin under siege, bombed, the city as a bombsite, the destroyed streets, apartments, the basement? The devastation?
5.The battle scenes, the weapons, the Russians and their advance, clearing the streets, being ambushed? The occupation of Berlin? The ultimate surrender?
6.The introduction to Anonyma, her voice-over, her life, journalist, in Paris and London, in Moscow, the decision to return to Germany, her motivation, her loyal Nazism, at the glamorous party, the people chattering about Hitler, destiny, the presumptions of the superiority of the Germans?
7.The picture of the wealthy, the glamorous, the transition to defeat, humiliation?
8.Anonyma, her relationship with Gerd, the farewell, his going to the fight, his comment that thirty minutes with him and she would never leave him? The irony of her remembering this later?
9.The basement, the range of people hiding, the children, the women, the elderly? Their fears? Their superior attitude towards the Russians, considering them barbarians? Their loyalty to the German state, to Nazi ideology? Their snobbery about language and culture?
10.The Russians, the experience of war, the millions of Russians killed, the experience of difficulties and desolation in their homeland, the joy of reaching Berlin, prevented from taking the Reichstag? Clearing the streets, the guns, settling the people down? Their rough manner, soldiers and their background? Language? Their attitude towards the women? Food and supplies? Obeying orders – and some rampages and disobeying orders?
11.The women emerging out of the basement, the cartload of potatoes, the Russian offers? The women tentative? Anonyma as strong, going to the commander, trying to find the leader, raising the issues, especially about the women? A courageous and strong-minded woman?
12.The people being settled, in the apartment block, the role of the widow, her being in charge, hospital, survival? The other women, the elderly husbands? The Silesian woman and her fears, yet her fierce loyalty? Her soldier boyfriend, not wanting to be sent to Siberia, his getting food? The eventual discovery? His being shot?
13.Life in the building, gifts of food, managing, waiting for the surrender, after the surrender?
14.The issue for the women, whether to comply with the occupation forces, sexually, be raped or not, prostitution? Anonyma and the men, permitting them to come to her, survival, her relationship with the two different men, with the commander?
15.The character of the commander, the story of his wife and her death, his relationship with the men, cultured, playing the piano, his relationship with Anonyma? Love?
16.Issues of collaboration, the picture of the women and the survivors collaborating? The women as victims? The older man, not willing to collaborate, killing himself?
17.The issue of rape, the women as victims, having to cope, prostitution versus rape, trying to preserve their dignity?
18.The variety of Russian soldiers, their appearance, uniforms, behaviour, the commander, the party, the dancing?
19.Hostility towards the commander, his being relieved of his post? Anonyma visiting him, the tribute, the farewell?
20.Gerd and his return, the suddenness, the shock, his disapproval, Anonyma giving him the diaries to read, his leaving nonetheless, his condemning her as shameless?
21.Anonyma, the change in her experience, from superior, to humiliated, to coping, to making decisions, to asserting herself, to writing her book?
22.The film as a continued examination of conscience about war, war and exploitation, the role of women? The importance of recreating this episode for German audiences? Worldwide?