Movies about World War II often rush through the endgame of civilian chaos and compromise portrayed in Max Färberböck’s vexing drama, based upon a journalist’s anonymous diary of the Red Army invasion. In an apartment block on a rubble-strewn street, a cross section of German women are treated as trophies by their liberators, and must negotiate the shifting rules of a new, brutal norm. For the story’s chronicler (Hoss), that entails becoming the mistress of two Russian officers to secure protection and food.
Transitioning intriguingly between depictions of cruelty and gallows camaraderie, A Woman in Berlin tracks several lives in the building. But their stories feel hastily told and flat, except for that of a wry widow who hosts a détente drinking salon. Our sense of the treacherous and tender relations between occupiers and occupied is hampered by turbulent direction that’s more intent on displaying shrill face-offs and canted angles than getting deep into a scene. Färberböck is obviously invested in the story’s strange tangles of the heart, which tap into a far-reaching sense of shame (the original memoir was only recently republished, owing to lasting taboos about the era’s mass rapes). But this shapeless adaptation falls short of achieving the full impact of a complicated, undertold chapter in history