by Sybille Forster-Rentmeister
(photos: supplied by Rosenstrasse ©Jan Betke)
the press showing of Rosenstrasse, Margarethe von Trotta’s latest epic, you
could have heard a feather float to the ground in the audience. That is how
quiet it was. The usual shuffling of feet and coughing and so on was totally
absent. Afterwards people just quietly filed out instead of talking to
colleagues, inquiring how they liked the film.
Everyone was trying to get his or her bearings, digest what
just had been presented.
Yes, this was yet another Third Reich movie, the likes most
of us do not want to see or hear about anymore. I could already hear so many
people say: Don’t they know anything else over there? Have they nothing else
to talk about? Does Germany have no other profound stories to tell, other
than the misery that was brought to so many millions of people by WWII?
Sure they do. But let’s face it, there is beauty on the
battlefield and there are lessons to be learned, viewpoints to be corrected,
and truths to be found. And as long as there are question marks on that
infamous part of history there will be attempts to answer them.
sometimes a great artist like Margarethe von Trotta weaves the story into a
tapestry of symbolism, while she strays not far from the truth. She takes as
little poetic license as possible and only as is necessary, but keeps the
integrity of the truth. Amalgamating several characteristics into one
personality falls into that creative story weaving and she does it very
well. Each one of the women portrayed in the film is a composite of traits
in various possible women that found themselves in this situation: A
Nuremberg Law stated that Jewish men married to Arian woman, and also in the
event of Jewish women with Aryian men, could not be deported, whatever that
The Film Rosenstrasse embraces this difficult story with
much courage. The up to 2 thousand (mainly) women stood for days on end,
regardless of cold and wet weather, and intimidation attempts, including
soldiers with heavy machine guns, and fast driving tactical vehicles, in
front of the building on Rosenstrasse, where their loved ones were brutally
being held captive. Out of the many individuals we get to know a few of them
closer. Telescopically the film concentrates on the essentials of characters
and their stories as representative for the rest of the many in the
The German Magazine Der Spiegel gripes a lot about this
movie. The entire tone of the review is covertly hostile to the movie and
its maker. It claims that the film lacks realism, does not demonstrate
triumph after the women won out over the authorities. The reviewer does not
understand that relief was the more accurate emotion that must have been
prevalent in this situation. The resident reviewer drips with sarcasm and
demonstrates clearly that he does not understand much about human nature,
especially when it finds itself under duress.
This Spiegel review illustrates that and why movies like
this are still necessary, especially in this world of fully fed,
overeducated intellectuals and underfed, undereducated red neck bullies and
barbarians, neither of which are capable of experiencing anything more than
that which hits them over the head hard and painful. Subtlety is not in the
realm of their possible experiences.
And Margarethe von Trotta’s film is above all subtle. There
are few huge dramatic gestures to be seen, which is representative of a
society already living in fear of its dictators. When attention is wanted
the colours become bright in an otherwise more monochrome grey shaded
picture show. Houses are grey, the weather is grey, the clothes are
colourless, and the hungry people and second-class citizens are bloodlessly
pale. Perseverance is grey in the light of hopelessness, and it is bright
only in the light of dominance and decadence. The symbolism of this colour
scheme is almost diabolical satire.
Occasional cleverness born out of a natural survival
instinct moves the story forward as much as the unknown acts of kindness and
even courage so many Germans demonstrated under difficult circumstances and
apparent fear. In a pivotal scene we walk in on a party, which is attended
by all the right people, including Mr. Goebbels. A song from the UFA Movie "Stuerme
der Leidenschaft" is directly juxtaposed with the desire of the woman on
Rosentrasse, who want their men back, as they keep chanting in the cold. "Ich
weiss nicht zu wem ich gehoere" (…ich glaube ich gehoere nur mir ganz allein")
is the title of this song sung in the salon of a favourite songstress, to
soften the man that can make things happen, including sending the captives
home. This song is another example of von Trotta’s ability to choose just
the right symbolism for any given situation.
And we wonder almost until the end until we find out that
Propaganda Minister Goebbels lets all those detainees go. It is clearly not
because he has a good heart, or because someone courageous tried to
intervene, but because it was not exactly good PR to keep them locked up, as
we would say nowadays.
The story was much researched and is based on the truth. The
Rosenstrasse women did exist and they did do what the movie claims.
Who would not want to know about this important yet unknown
bit of truth? This is unusual film fare indeed, one that works in praise of
good people, to use a cliché. There were no real heroes or martyrs. There
were just people trying to survive the best way they knew how in an insane
world. Some of them were stubborn, some resigned, some had guts and were
decent, and some were drawn to the light like moths and burned. Some had not
enough courage for life and quietly left forever. We can never hear enough
about any of them!
This story, 10 years in the making, was in good hands with
Margarethe von Trotta. No wonder there was already Oscar talk for "Best
There are a great variety of German made films in this
year’s festival. Check out the action. The website
www.bell.ca/filmfest will provide you with all the information
you need on "how to film fest" and the when and where of movies.