Before I start reviewing, let me say something personal: As a German, one can hardly watch movies about the Holocaust, WWII or any related topic unbiased. As I have discovered myself, no German family is without a history related to the Third Reich, almost none are without grave guilt, or at least the fear thereof, and most who say otherwise either lie knowingly, or simply try to evade further inquiry. Reading some of the other reviews, I realized that for me, the movie conveyed something slightly, but decisively different: It is not so much about understanding HOW people could ever do the things they did, but rather how it is possible, that people we love, and people that have been loved by people we love could be so guilty and so loving, so despicable and lovable at the same time. It is about how we expect the guilt to show up somehow, how we expect to know the killer, the monster, at first sight and say: how could anyone not have seen it? Yet we have to admit sooner or later, that we were wrong, or were we? The question really is: How could I have ever loved someone who did things as horrible and disgusting as Hannah did? And just as much: If I am unmerciful now, having learned of their guilt, is it because they did what they did, or because they disappointed my own belief in their innocence? At one point, Hanna Schmitz asks the judge: "What would you have done?", and I think that therein lies an even more disturbing and unsettling question: What would I have done? What would you have done? How can anyone know for sure what WE would done? It is too easy to think of oneself as morally sound, with a firm belief in what is right and wrong. It's what Germans call the "mercy of late birth" - the luxury of not having been in the position to make that choice. So, what made this movie worth giving the full 10 points out of 10? It is well-crafted, well-played, believable, at times even beautiful. It captures both the fascination Michael feels with Hannah, and his disbelief, even disgust while exploring the ugly truth about her past. It conveys the struggle between our compassion and the reluctance to show mercy against the ones who did not. It leaves the viewer with the same, disturbing questions that have not been answered sufficiently in the past 60 years (nor will they ever be). It does not provide simple answers, but rather raises more questions, left to be unanswered. As Lena Olin's Character says: "If you want Catharsis, go to the theater!" Other than providing beautiful, well-toned cinematography, a well-written script, love of detail and convincing performances even by the supporting cast - what more can you expect from a truly great movie?
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Post-WWII Germany: Nearly a decade after his affair with an older woman came to a mysterious end, law student Michael Berg re-encounters his former lover as she defends herself in a war-crime trial.
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April 11, 2019