October 29, 2004


Directed by Margarethe von Trotta

Reviewed by Martin Tsai

Genocide has wrought devastation on different parts of the world at various times since the advent of civilization. For its sheer scale and terror, the Holocaust is undoubtedly one of the darkest chapters in history with a legacy that haunts generations. It has frequently been the subject or backdrop of both narrative and documentary features, evolving into a genre with its own conventions.

Significant works such as The Pianist and Sunshine depict Holocaust events in an original and thought-provoking manner. But some other films seem to be disturbingly predicated on a kind of shorthand that threatens to undermine the impact of the Nazi atrocities. Rosenstrasse is one of unfortunate films that fail to do justice to the true events that serve as their inspiration.

Told through extended flashbacks, the film focuses on a rare 1943 German protest by Aryan women after the Gestapo arrested their Jewish spouses. These women spent day and night standing outside the Rosenstrasse internment camp in Berlin, and with each day their numbers grew. Their determination eventually paid off and resulted in their loved ones' release. While those women's admirable effort has yet to receive its proper due on celluloid, the highlighting of Aryan heroines entails troublesome limitations on a Holocaust story.

Addressing concentration camps and murders only in passing, Rosenstrasse makes no attempt to adequately illustrate the horrendous prospects faced by its characters. The worst tragedies that take place during the course of the film include merely some chilling abuses by the stock despicable Nazi guards and an Aryan woman's suicide upon learning of her husband's deportation. As they await an impending death sentence, the Jewish prisoners here seem perfectly relaxed playing a makeshift board game. And the courageous Lena (Katia Riemann) only has to don a sexy evening gown and charm some powerful officer for her husband and everyone else to be set free the next day.

Further underestimating her audience in a pseudo-Hollywood way, director Margarethe von Trotta has everyone in present-day Manhattan conversing in fluent German. The contemporary tangent involving a Jewish mother's disapproval of the Latino fiance of her American-born daughter Hannah (Maria Schrader) bogs down the already deficient story. It turns out that the mother was an orphan Lena temporarily took in, a fact that prompts Hannah's impromptu visit to Berlin. The sketchy-at-best parallels drawn between past and present mixed marriages ultimately prove futile, unnecessarily stretching this oft-slight film over two hours.

Reprinted from WestEnder. © Copyright 2004 Martin Tsai. All rights reserved.