Woman in Berlin, A

Strand Releasing


Written and directed by Max Färberböck (“Aimee and Jaguar”), “A Woman in Berlin” is set during the 1945 Red Army invasion of Berlin.  Relating a sharply observed, morally ambiguous, not well-known experience of how women endured WWII, the movie is based on the published diary of Anonyma, a former journalist and photographer who remained anonymous until after her death.  Banned upon its initial publication in 1953, the book became an international literary phenomenon after a new edition was released in 2003.   
Set in the last days of the War, in Berlin, April 1945, “Woman in Berlin” begins in a partially destroyed building, where people cower in the basement and wait. Most of the survivors of the nighttime bombing raids and the artillery bombardments are women, who are now dreading the future that’s awaiting them, now that the Red Army is poised to march in and take Berlin.


The survivors, a varied group, include a widow (Irm Hermann), who is always there to lend a helping hand; the vivacious sisters Baerbel (Joerdis Triebel) and Greta (Roslaie Thomass); the elderly bookseller (Katharina Blaschke); the owner of a liquor factory (Maria Hartmann) whose husband has left her for a younger woman; the lesbian lovers Steffi (Sandra Hueller) and Lisbeth (Isabel Gerschke); a resolute 80-year-old (Erni Mangold); a desperate refugee girl (Anne Kanis); as well as mothers with their children and a few elderly men, whose energy has been sapped and sucked dry by the war.


The protagonist is Anonyma (Nina Hoss), an alluring and mysterious thirty-year woman, who once worked as a journalist and photographer and now records the current events for her boyfriend Gerd (August Diehl), who had disappeared on the Eastern Front years ago.


Expectedly, the days are filled with horrific and somewhat contradictory experiences. Anonyma, like most of the women, is raped several times by the victors. However, unlike the other femmes, she refuses to be a victim, summoning up her courage and will to defend her dignity in her own subjective (and controversial) way.  To that effect, Anonyma decides to look for a “wolf,” a Russian officer who will protect her from the other soldiers, in return of which she will grant sexual favors–voluntarily she says trying to convince herself and justify her dubious conduct.


Indeed, soon Anonyma shows interest in the polite, melancholic Russian officer Andrej (Evgeny Sidikhin), and they embark on a peculiar relationship that borders on real love. Still, there are some insurmountable barriers between them, never letting them forget that they are essentially enemies.


The other women come up with their own personal strategies of survival, which sometimes call for acting flippant or submissive, but always on the lookout for the slightest possible advantage. Realizing the Russian soldiers also crave some human warmth, they set up a camp in a destroyed building.


In the end, the victors and the vanquished celebrate the end of the long, tumultuous war together, based on the shared experience that they have all escaped death—in one way or another.  After enduring the brutality of violence, often resulted in bruised feelings and ripped emotions, they are looking ahead to a future when they can slowly start to lead normal lives.


It’s noteworthy that Anonyma is one of the few surviving women to ever have reported on a subject that’s still taboo, and which still occurs in wars around the world.  She is splendidly played by Nina Hoss, one of Germany’s most acclaimed actresses, who achieved fame in the film “Yella,” for which she earned the acting kudo at the Berlin Film Fest and the German Film Awards (the German Oscars).

Technically, too, the movie is well produced, particularly the music, which was written by renowned Polish composer Zbigniew Preisner, whose many scores include Krzystof Kieslowski’s “The Dekalog”, “The Double Life of Veronique”, “Blue”, “White”, and “Red”.

In an interview explaining his motivation to make this movie, director Max Faerberboeck notes: “When I read the book Anonyma for the first time, I could not make up my mind. On the one hand, I was shocked by what happened in Berlin at that time. On the other hand, I was fascinated by the intelligence and bluntness the anonymous author displayed in reporting on the events. I was drawn in by her narration. Yet, there remained a small, nagging distance. That was the author's aura. Her absolutely unsentimental way of writing, her harsh view of herself and everybody else–Germans and Russians–was irritating.”


I think many viewers will experience similar, conflicted (or at least ambiguous) feelings upon watching the picture, which raises more questions that it can possible answer and almost forces you to take a stance.



Anonyma Nina Hoss

Andrej Evgeny Sidikhin

Widow Irm Hermann

Eckhart Ruediger Vogler

Ilse Hoch Ulrike Krumbiegel

Friedrich Hoch Rolf Kanies

Baerbel Maltaus Joerdis Triebel

Anatol Roman Gribkov

Elke Juliane Koehler

Andropov Samvel Muzhikyan

Mongol Viktor Zhalsanov

Mascha Aleksandra Kulikova

Soldier #1 (Rapist) Oleg Chernov

Refugee Girl Anne Kanis

Gerd August Diehl

Greta Maltaus Rosalie Thomass

Steffi Sandra Hueller

Eighty-year-old Woman Erni Mangold

Young Soldier Sebastian Urzendowsky

Dr. Wolf Hermann Beyer

Bookseller Ralf Schermuly

Lisbeth Isabell Gerschke

Petka Alexander Samoylenko




Director Max Faerberboeck

Producer Guenter Rohrbach

Executive Producer Martin Moszkowicz

Screenplay Max Faerberboeck

Script Advisor Catharina Schuchmann, based on the diary of Anonyma, “A Woman in Berlin,” published by Eichborn Verlag

Music Zbigniew Preisner

Production Design Benedict Neuenfels

Art Director Uli Hanisch

Costume Designer Lucia Faust

Editor Ewa J. Lind

Make-up Waldemar Pokromski

Anette Keiser

Casting Simone Baer

Production Manager Astrid Kuehberger

Story Editor ZDF Caroline von Senden