Volume 74, Number 20 | September 22 - 28 , 2004

koch on film

“Rosenstrasse” (+)
This well-done docudrama is a fictionalized account of a true incident that took place in Berlin.

The movie opens on the Upper West Side of Manhattan where a Jewish family is sitting Shiva (period of mourning). The deceased’s wife, Ruth (Jutta Lampe), is shown covering the mirrors in the house with cloths, and her observance of such Orthodox rituals surprises her children.

The film shifts back and forth to Germany under the Nazis at about the time of the battle for Stalingrad. Orders were issued in Berlin to round up and ship to concentration camps the Jewish spouses of non-Jewish Germans, referred to by the Nazis as Aryans. Most of the film deals with the Christian women who with great courage stood in front of the building where their husbands were incarcerated demanding their release, even when soldiers with machine guns were posted in front of the crowd.

Ruth’s daughter, Hannah (Maria Schrader), is engaged to a non-Jew, and Ruth has made it clear that she opposes the marriage. Hannah, wanting to learn about her mother’s past and understand why she is so hostile toward her Christian fiancé, travels to Berlin. She interviews one of the Christian women, Lena (Katja Riemann), who at great personal cost did what she could to save her Jewish husband, Fabian (Martin Feifel), from certain death.

The roles are beautifully played. While the script lends itself to melodrama, it never goes that route. Nevertheless, it will and certainly should evoke tears. It is worth seeing this film, especially during this period of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, to help us count our blessings in this country and reflect on the current rising tide of anti-Semitism throughout Europe.

“Criminal” (+)
Two years ago I reviewed the sensational Argentinean film “Nine Queens,” on which “Criminal” is based. In my review I stated, “This is an intriguing movie from the first frame to the last.”

Regrettably, “Criminal” is a distant second in both acting and execution. John C. Reilly and Maggie Gyllenhaal are brilliant actors. Unfortunately, in this film they seem uncomfortable in their roles and give very ordinary performances. On the other hand, Diego Luna gives an excellent performance.

The plot is devoted to numerous scams primarily carried out by Richard (John C. Reilly) and Rodrigo, (Diego Luna). Rodrigo was a loner plying his trade in relatively minor scams involving small amounts of money. He later joins Richard in a scam involving a forged document with the value of $750,000. Valerie (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who is Richard’s sister, is also cast as someone sexually attracted to Rodrigo. But since she looks old enough to be his mother, it doesn’t work.

The half-dozen scams pulled off by various con artists make this a pleasant film to watch, but for real excitement, rent “Nine Queens.” It is so far superior to the American version of the same script.

— Ed Koch

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