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Film review: Rosenstrasse

Published: Thursday, Dec. 23 2004 2:51 p.m. MST

Svea Lohde is Ruth in the World War II drama "Rosenstrasse."

Samuel Goldwyn Films

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"Rosenstrasse" commits just one storytelling mistake, but it's a real doozy. In fact, it's so big that the entire movie suffers as a result.

While most of "Rosenstrasse" is set in World War II, there are present-day, flash-forward sequences that are considerably less involving. Actually, they're so dull that they drag the entire movie to a screeching halt.

And the addition of those scenes not only indicates some laziness on the part of filmmaker Magarethe von Trotta but also seems to indicate that she didn't believe in the strength of the rest of the material. It also makes an already long film even longer.

"Rosenstrasse" is based on the real-life stories of German women married to Jewish men during the war. The title refers to a facility in a Berlin neighborhood where some of those husbands were held by German soldiers. There, they were forced to do menial labor, and they were later transported by railcars to concentration camps.

One of the wives is Lena Fischer (Katja Riemann), a talented pianist whose violinist husband Fabian (Martin Fiefel) is being held in the facility, and she has little hope that he will be released. Soon she takes in Ruth (Sveah Lohde), the daughter of a woman also imprisoned there.

There are extensive sequences that take place in present-day Berlin, as the now-ninetysomething Lena (Doris Schade) tells her story to Hannah (Maria Schrader), They bear some resemblance to the story structure of "Titanic" but are even clunkier. (In a way, it also seems to take an "apologist" tone in its treatment of German culpability regarding the Holocaust, which leaves a bit of a bad aftertaste.)

It's painfully obvious where that particular story thread is going, and even the usually dependable Schrader can't bring that section to life. As for Riemann, her solid performance is the one noteworthy bit in a film that is otherwise forgettable.

Which is a shame, because in the right hands this material could have been something really special.

"Rosenstrasse" is rated PG-13 for some scenes of war violence (including shootings and some riot suppression), use of ethnic slurs and mild profanity (mostly religion-based), and some brief sexual contact. Running time: 136 minutes.


E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com

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