There seems no end to the cinematic mastication of WWII-related injury, and A Woman in Berlin upturns yet another stone in its sordid, rippling history. Originally the diary of an anonymous German journalist (thought to be Marta Hillers, portrayed here by Nina Hoss), it was first published in the mid-'50s, and chronicles the systematic raping of German women during the Russian Army's occupation of Berlin. Proving ahead of its era, upon publication the book was trashed as an insult to German women, and was more or less buried until time, and feminist progress, helped ease its re-publication in 2003.
Considering the book's grim source material, the film, directed by Max Färberböck, handles itself with composure, neither avoiding nor exploiting the terrorization of its characters. Likewise, Hoss handles her role with the dignified single-mindedness that befits a woman whose determination to survive led her to proposition a high-ranking Russian officer (Yevgeni Sidikhin) in exchange for food and protection from the rabble of rank-and-file soldiers who violently stormed apartment buildings for gang-raping and plundering with alarming and indiscriminate frequency.
In certain circles, it's taboo to legitimize any depiction of German suffering in relation to WWII, in light of their own well-documented atrocities and/or (arguably feigned and retroactively exaggerated) secondhand ignorance of their government's actions. Färberböck's depiction can't be accused of such oversimplification—it's a film in which nobody is innocent so much as caught up in ricocheting volleys of pain and vengeance. The complicated central relationship is also not quite "love"—one would rather not devolve the term—so much as the mutilated skeleton of a primitive transaction, as much a survival mechanism as the crude humor bandied between the brutalized women. Exposing, and therefore honoring in recognition, their strength and solidarity is what makes the exhumation of these transgressions worthwhile.