In creating my list of films about women (and it is a formidable list) I have noticed how many films about the Holocaust deal with women. I think there are a couple of reasons for this.
1 Anne Frank is the emblem of the Holocaust victims. Most people, when they think of victims of the Holocaust, do not think of a man. They think of a young girl. This colors the way we think of the Holocaust victims.
2 Victims are objects (acted upon) and perpetrators are subjects (actors). We tend to think of women as being acted upon, and men as acting. So, when we tell a story about a victim, we are more likely to think of the victim as a woman.
However, these points do not apply entirely to one of the films on this list, because it tells the story of the children of perpetrators.
Anyway, onto the list. I am adding an additional film to the list.
1 The Diary of Anne Frank
For me, this film was a surprise. I was really surprised by how well it portrayed the adult characters. I actually liked them better than their portrayal of Anne Frank. Anne has always been a strange character for me, and her diary a strange document. (I guess girls in this position have to grow up really fast!) Plus, the actress playing Anne is clearly much older than Anne would have been, so she seems like almost anything else except a teenager. Of course, how did teenagers act in the late 50’s? (That’s when the movie was made.)
That aside, this film really does encapsulate the boredom, anxiety, and desperation that the inhabitants of the Secret Annex must have felt during their two year stay. It also makes it possible to think about how difficult that stay must have been for all involved. The adults in the film give fine performances, and the film was, according to the credits, filmed in the actual house where Anne stayed. The film is very much a product of its time, with its intermission and the string music. However, if the viewer can accept its shortcomings, then it is a very effective film. I know have a much better idea of how it would have felt to live as Anne did for two years.
Lore is a German film by an Australian film. It follows a young woman whose parents abandon her and her siblings on the eve of Germany’s surrender in 1945. She and her siblings must travel by foot to her grandmother’s house, with no food and only her mother’s jewelry for money.
The film is more than just a survival story. The movie, told through the adolescent’s point of view, hints that her father (and perhaps her mother) were involved in the atrocities of the Holocaust. At one point, Lore sees pictures of the camps posted on the wall, and one of the men in uniform resembles her father. She also meets a teenage boy who, among his few possessions, carries a six pointed star with the word Jude written on it. In this encounter, and the ever present pictures of the camps, she is forced to question everything she has ever been taught to believe.
I saw this film on the library shelf, and picked it up only because of my Films About Women List. I was pleasantly surprised. More than that. This film was brilliantly shot. At times, the viewer isn’t entirely sure what is happening or what to believe, but this is actually a sign of good filmmaking, and not bad filmmaking. The viewer shares in the confusion of this young woman, who begins to suspect that everything that she has been taught is a lie. Germany, the empire that was supposed to last for 1,000 years, is carved up into factions. Was her father truly a good man, or was he involved in the greatest crime of the 20th century?
In Lore, the main character’s confusion, anguish, heartbreak, and defiance are all very real. The film also takes several delightful twists and turns that I did not expect. I was worried that, when Lore meets the young man, the film would turn into a “star-crossed lovers” story. However, the film does not fall into that trap, and takes a very unexpected turn at the end!
This film is a very compelling and haunting story and is immaculately shot. It will stay with you for a long time.
3 Sarah’s Key
This is a very moving film that tells two interrelated stories. One of them is the deeply horrific story of Sarah, a young French Jewish girl who locks her brother in a closet and is then captured by French soldiers cooperating with the Nazis’ efforts to ship Jews to camps. She attempts to get back to her brother to save his life. The second story revolves around a middle aged journalist named Julia who, unknowingly, has moved into the girl’s apartment and begins to discover her story.
This film was very moving and haunting. The little girl actually gives a remarkable performance, and the woman’s attempt to understand the past, as well as her own painful present is also very compelling. Julia and her husband have suffered infertility, so they have no children. Julia, in the course of the movie, discovers that she’s pregnant, and her husband urges her to have an abortion. She is torn between her husband and her resurrected dream of being a mother.
It’s not an easy film to watch, but it is a memorable film about not one, but two women.
4 Nasty Girl
I haven’t seen this film in over ten years, so my memories of this film are pretty faint. This film is unusual, going from black and white to color and filming in an non-realistic fashion. It also lacks an ending.
Still, this film is very memorable. It tells the story of a young German amateur historian who decides to research the history of her town during the Third Reich. She wants to show how the people of her town were good, upstanding, people, who resisted the Nazis. Unfortunately, her investigation is blocked at every turn, and she begins to receive hateful phone calls, because the townspeople fear what she will uncover.
It’s a very unconventional film, and yet, I still remember it ten years later. That has to say something.
BTW, I googled Nasty Girl in order to find images of the film. I regret it.