Posts Tagged ‘Nazis’

Stella. A Life. (2024)

Dir: Killian Riedhof | Cast: Paula Beer, Bekim Latifi, Damian Hardung, Joel Basman | Germany Drama 121′

This horrifying wartime tragedy kicks off in good spirits. In a Berlin nightclub to dazzling strains of Benny Goodman’s ‘Sing Sing Sing’ the harried main character Stella is an aspiring jazz singer only just facing up to the unspeakable terrors of her hometown under Nazi rule.

The daytime sees her slaving away in a garment factory where the Jewish workers are one day rounded up and shot. But Stella, based on the real life of Stella Goldschlag, is determined not to end her life in Auschwitz. In fact, so determined, that she would go on to betray her fellow Jews, some of them close friends, to the Gestapo, just to salvage her own dreams.  

Looking wan and washed out for her gruelling role, Paula Beer turns in another dynamite performance as a highly suggestible woman on the brink whose life is turned upside down when she refuses to submit to the constraints of being a Jew in Nazi Germany just when her musical career is starting to take off.

Hounded, questioned and subjected to continuous scrutiny, Stella and her parents are forced into hiding where she realises the only way to survive is to play a double game. But that will have consequences for the brittle blue-eyed anti-heroine – who is both victim and perpetrator – as she tries desperately to juggle her life with various powerful protagonists in a bid to avoid deportation to Auschwitz. Sadly her story turns into a nightmarish maelstrom of torture, duplicity – and ultimately guilt.

With its febrile tone and intense pacing Stella. A Life conjures up the palpable fear and very real trauma Nazi Germany instils in its Jewish population in 1944 and shows how ordinary people are capable of evil, in certain circumstances. Some of the set pieces are truly harrowing. particularly a scene where Stella is picked up by her hair, and brutally kicked in the head during an interrogation. Riedhof certainly knows how to create atmosphere but his script suffers from an under-developed storyline, and Stella’s descent into evil is never convincingly realised in a thriller that gradually gives way to sensationalism with a series of traumatic interludes, rather than a cohesive narrative.

Stella. A Life is an effective exploration of the horrors of war and the devastating emotional and physical effects on the victims in their desperate will to survive – until guilt rears its ugly head. @MeredithTaylor 


Werewolf (2018) ***

Dir.: Adrian Panek; Cast: Kamil Polnisak, Sonia Mietielica, Danuta Stenka, Nicolas Przygoda; Poland/Netherlands/Germany 2018, 88 min

Inspired by real-life, historical events, writer and director Adrian Panek turns the nightmare of the Holocaust onto a motley group of children who are still alive in the last knockings of the war. One-part survival horror, one-part wartime thriller with a dash of coming-of-age drama, Werewolf is an unconventional yet haunting contemporary dark fable. But its use of young Concentration Camp survivors – in what is basically a horror film featuring vicious German Shepherd dogs – is rather questionable.

In the final days before liberation by the Red Army, the guards in the Gross-Rosen Camp in South-west Poland kill some of the survivors, others are bitten to death by the Alsatians. Young Wladek (Polnisak) is a prisoner who ingratiates himself with the guards, voluntarily throwing himself to the ground and jumping up shouting Auf (Up) and Nieder (down), to please his masters. After he survives along with seven much younger children, they are taken to the the sinister cottage belonging to enigmatic Jadwiga (Stenka) deep in the woods where Jadwiga is killed under mysterious circumstances. The children soon start to run out of food but are forced to remain in the remote house under the leadership of twenty-year old Hanka (Mietielica), due to the wild dogs circling outside, baying for blood. When one of the invading Russian soldiers tries to rape Hanka – with the clear acquiescence of Wladek who is jealous that Hanka prefers the outsider Hanys (Przygoda) to him – he saves the young woman. Wladek seems to be able to communicate with the dogs, before Hanys removes his striped uniform, making the dogs obey him.

Panek clearly objectifies the survivors, with Wladek becoming more mean as the films goes on. Survival depends on living by their wits and the victims cannily comply with their captors. But Werewolf goes a step further, and denounces Wladek as completely wicked. Unfortunately, many Poles were complicit in the murder of their Jewish countrymen – one estimate by the historian Grabowski talks of over 200 000 cases, ending with the deportation or death of Jews. But between the liberation of 1944 and 1946, over 2000 Jews, often Camp survivors, were murdered by Poles – some forty at the first post-war pogrom in Kielce in July 1946. The nationalist government of today has tried to block out any discussion, making it a crime to speak about Polish collaboration, before rescinding the law. Panek’s treatment of Wladek and the other survivors (relegating them to fairground objects) is just another example of the difficulty Poland has with its Jewish history. AS

Werewolf is out on 30 September 2019 (UK & Ireland)

Nationwide from 20 September 2019

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