Rape and Love among Ruins: Anonyma – The Downfall of Berlin aka Anonyma – Eine Frau in Berlin (2008)

I was not sure if it was in good taste to use the title I gave this post but somehow it sums  up the film in a very few words. It is as if I had wanted to find two ways to speak about this movie: With brevity first and later at great length.
The Downfall of  Berlin has two contrasting parts taking place  shortly before and after the war ends. The beginning shows the taking over of Berlin by the Russian Army and the  mass rape that was soon every woman’s daily reality. The second half is dedicated to the love story with a Russian Major and the home-coming of Anonyma’s husband. All this takes place among ruins which accentuates the subliminal theme of the fragility of the depicted relationships.
The movie starts in 1945,  at the end of the war when the  Red Army troops enter the city of Berlin. What the German women had to endure from the moment the Russian Army set foot on the Ground of the city is an unparalleled horror.  Mass rape, brutalities and cruelty are the order of the day. One of these women, Anonyma,  kept a diary in which she carefully noted all the shocking events for her husband who had been sent to the Eastern front.
As the horrors go on she decides to look for a protector who might shield her from being constantly raped and abused by other men.

I have seen a few movies dealing with the German civilian population at the end of the war. There is a common moment in many of those movies. The inhabitants of a village or town hear troops approach and one of them is sent to find out who is coming. When the messenger returns there is this crucial moment when everybody just wonders whether he has spotted  Russian or American troops. Should it be the Soviet Army, the civilians flee in terror, whenever they hear it´s the Americans they are overjoyed.

A lot of the discussions whether this is a good movie circle around the comparison with the book and the liberties that have been taken to turn it into a movie.
First published in English in 1955 it has not been reissued until 2003, after the author’s death,  and this time under the pseudonym Anonyma. The reception of the book in Germany in 1959 was very harsh and aggressive and shocked the author a great deal. Germany was not ready for the  content of this  book.
The author of the diary was a  journalist and well-travelled woman. In  noting the horrible events and describing in great details the daily terrors of the women facing the Red Army she has left us an invaluable first-hand account.
The movie shows that hardly any woman, young or old,  escaped being raped.
There is a brief part in the movie when Anonyma meets a friend that she hasn’t seen in a long time and asks her “How many?” And they both know without any further clarification what they are referring to. Some 2´000´000 German women were raped in this time.  Payback for the massive loss of Russian lives.
It was criticised that the movie was not able to  transmit the whole extent of the horror that the book  shows. And of course the invention of the love affair which does not take place in the book was criticised as well. I  liked this doomed love story a great deal even though I normally do not like it when grim facts are sugar-coated by romance. But as a matter of fact this is a very realistic love story. Not very sugary at all and even though not in the book I think it manages to add another dimension.

Anonyma is a very fine movie, especially since it is in large parts bilingual German/Russian. The Russian cast is absolutely great. I especially liked Yevgeni Sidhikin in the role of Major Andreij Rybkin who becomes Anonyma´s protector and lover. Apparently already well-known in Russia we might see some more of him in the future. I was not too thrilled by the German actors. Apart from Nina Hoss who plays her role with an almost severe dignity, they are a bit too dramatic and wooden at times.

The shocking story of mass rape  is told in a very convincing manner. Evident but not voyeuristic. Without being shown  too explicitly we know what is going on.

I consider this to be an important movie as it shows how much the Germans suffered as well.
From reading German reviews on this movie I see that to this day the feeling of guilt runs so deep in Germany that they still feel uneasy to mourn these events.

And nowhere have I ever seen this called a war crime. Why not? Because the war was almost over? That would be a little bit cynical. Or because the aggressor has no right to complain?

Maybe it is just because no matter how it is called, no one really wants to speak about it. Rape like torture are hard to deal with. For both. Those who commit it and those who endure it.

I would really like to read comments, thoughts and whatever not about this movie from others.

amazon.com  Anonyma – The Movie

amazon.com Anonyma – The Book

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14 thoughts on “Rape and Love among Ruins: Anonyma – The Downfall of Berlin aka Anonyma – Eine Frau in Berlin (2008)

  1. […] Anonyma – Eine Frau n Berlin aka Anonyma – The Downfall of Berlin (2008) : WWII, Berlin. One of the movies I reviewed recently. I included it as it tackles a lesser known and very painful subject. The mass rape of German women by the Red Army. See my post of Anonyma. […]

  2. Annamae Flanary says:

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  3. nem baj says:

    I have to re-watch this one. I remember not being fond of the ‘love story’, but liking the way it showed the women organizing themselves in order to survive as human beings – and not merely flesh. When we think of ‘resistance’ we often think of ‘fighting back’, but sometimes survival itself is an immense struggle.

    And of course, making such a film was in itself a commendable achievement on several levels: German History of course, but also Women’s History. WW2 had such a terrible toll on civilians… and women in particular.

    PS: Many countries occupied by the Wehrmacht – especially Russia, Belarus or Ukraine – could probably make a symmetrical film. In fact they should, but will they one day?

    • From what I hear, the source material is very good, and I should finally read it, so if the find a comparable account then maybe Russia, . . . would follow.
      I liked it a great deal and didn’t mind the love story.
      Off to read your follow-up comment.

  4. nem baj says:

    Re-watched it. I still like it very much, but I think it has a big weakness. It stays very close to the original testimony, and the state of mind of the narrator is certainly accurate historically, which is a very strong point. Yet at the same time it contains very little matter for historical reflexion.

    Why do soldiers behave like this? While the film successfully refrains from blunt xenophobic clichés about Russians*, it doesn’t try either to explore the possible relationships between the construction of masculinity in the Russian world, the state of war, and the practice of rape. Apart from an interesting remark by the Major at the beginning (‘my men are healthy and clean’) the only explanation available seem to be ‘revenge’ and ‘spoils of war’, and that’s a bit thin for a director filming in 2008 after decades of feminism and women’s studies.

    Moreover, since on several occasions the women are told that the behavior of German soldiers has been the same – and they seem to believe it – I think it’s also a pity the film doesn’t attempt to confront the two German veterans with it. In my opinion this unexplored angle is a big weakness, unfortunately amplified by the treatment of all German male characters.

    As much as I can understand the women’s feeling that they have been ‘abandoned’ by their husbands when they were defeated (defeat making them in a way ‘lesser men’), the film not raising above these immediate feelings makes for a somehow fatalistic and a tad ambiguous impression. Of course a film cannot encompass every aspect of a story, yet a lot of time is devoted to the ‘love interests’ of Andrei, Anonyma and… Masha, whose rank is never mentioned even though she’s a sergeant.

    (*) The depiction of the Soviet ‘melting-pot’ takes a long screen time; it is certainly very present also in the diary. Yet as another example of the film not rising above the literal level, there seems to be no allusion to the fact that this kind of ‘butterfly collector ethnology’ was a national-socialist hobby.

    • If they had added those angles you mention and included more historical reflexion then purists would have criticized them for not staying true to the source text. I think any which way you look at it, they couldn’t win. Someone looking from some angle would always find a flaw. I think it did a great job at showing that when you are in the thick of it, you’re not going to spend a lot of time relfecting whether they had reasons for being the way they were . . .
      Therefore I’m glad they did it like this. It’s the perspective of a woman who was there.

      • nem baj says:

        Of course you have a point. Yet they added the love triangle to make the character closer to the audience. I suggest a more ambitious theme – that of men and women’s revolving social attitudes towards rape – may have had the same effect. Without even twisting Anonyma’s first person account.

        Then again, it’s good. And there are not that many movies about rape and war (most of the times since the first war movies it’s only used in a single scene to paint the enemy black).

      • Yes, the love story. But that kind of addition is more easily accepted.
        I wouldn’t know of many movies focusing on that theme. The German public and press reacted very inkindly. I think it’s still frowned upon to show that Germans were victims as well. Those women in Berlin really were. There were other German victims of course.

      • nem baj says:

        I’m not sure the cold reception of the film was entirely about Germans being victims. The subject itself is seldom dealt with – while to my understanding rape is incredibly common during all wars (of course those particular months in Berlin being special).

        Which is why in spite of its flaws I also found Angelina Jolie’s attempt (In the Land of Blood and Honey) commendable.

      • Good to know, I wasn’t sure if I should bother watching it.

      • nem baj says:

        I have little doubt she knows much more about war through her numerous encounters with refugees than most of her critics do.

  5. […] during WWII. The feeling of guilt ran too deep. I still remember the discussion when the movie Anonyma came out in 2008. It’s based on the diary of a German woman who was in Berlin when the […]

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