In 1943, on a Berlin street called Rosenstrasse, a group of gentile women stood up to Nazis holding their Jewish husbands captive in a makeshift prison.
An exploration of so-called “mixed marriages” in Nazi Germany would be compelling on its own, but even more moving is this little-told story of a group of women willing to stare down machine guns to save their men, even when all seemed hopeless.
With so much pathos at her disposal, German screenwriter and director Margarethe von Trotta unfortunately relies on flashback sequences mixed with a modern-day plot. The device detracts from the potential power of the film.
The Rosenstrasse story is told through a fictional character named Hannah, a present-day American woman who wants to learn her mother’s Holocaust story. Hannah wishes to marry a non-Jew, but her mother forbids it. Knowing her mother has a secret past that haunts her, Hannah travels to Berlin to find answers.
Posing as a history student, Hannah finds Lena, a woman whose Jewish husband was held inside the prison on Rosenstrasse street. Lena met Hannah’s mother, Ruth, in front of the prison. At the time, Ruth was a little girl, left to fend for herself when the Nazis took her mother into the prison.
As Lena divulges the details of the protest, Hannah finally understands the suffering her mother underwent.
It’s hard to watch the story unfold, not because of the graveness of the plot, but because the flow of the movie is so disjointed. The present-day scenes disrupt the suspense and emotions built up by flashbacks to 1943. Every time the movie flashes forward, it’s disappointing.
However, there are truly great aspects to the film. Katja Reimann as Lena perfectly embodies the plight of the Rosenstrasse women: tough, resolute, willing to do anything to bring her husband home. If von Trotta had carried the historical fiction throughout, Rosenstrasse could have been a masterpiece.
Showing at the Maple Art Theater, 4135 W. Maple Road, Bloomfield Hills. Call 248-263-2111.
Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].