Rosenstrasse is a film covering a little known and certainly rarely told story of a group of brave German women that dared stand up to Nazi army who were holding their Jewish husbands prisoner in a wartorn street of Berlin in 1943.The films opens in modern day New York with Hannah (Maria Schrader) returning to the family home with her Nicaraguan fiancé to find her mother Ruth (Jutta Lampe), acting very strangely. She has become completely withdrawn and is suddenly obsessed with Jewish tradition which involves her threatening to disown Hannah should she proceed with her marriage to a non Jew. During this tense reunion, she discovers via her cousin about a woman named Lena who took Ruth in as a child when the Hannah’s aunt was deported and murdered by the Nazis. Hannah becomes obsessed with this unknown chapter in her mother’s life and travels to Germany determined to track down Lena to find out more.
Under the alias of a journalist researching events of the Holocaust, Hannah manages to find Lena (Doris Schade), living in Berlin and ninety years of age. Lena has an excellent memory of this dark period in German history and the movie is shown in flashback as she tells her story of how, as a young woman (Katja Reimann) she was left without a husband one day after he was presumed to be taken prisoner by the Nazis. Prior to his capture they formed a successful musical partnership, she on violin and her husband Fabian (Martin Feifel) a talented pianist. Unfortunately for Fabian he was also a Jew, but prior to his imprisonment legislation protected mixed marriages. Lena finds out her husband and other Jews from mixed relationships are being held captive on a street named Rosenstrasse.
As word spreads that this is the holding place of many missing partners, a group of women begin a vigil in the freezing cold outside of the prison in the hope they may catch a glimpse of their husbands and to protest their unlawful capture. It is here where Lena finds Ruth as a young girl whose mother is believed to be held inside. She takes her under her wing protecting her from the Gestapo whilst her mother’s fate is unknown. The more Lena learns of what is happening to Jews around the country, the more desperate she becomes in order to see her husband free. Even if this means flirting with a government minister after she plays violin at a social function.
The recreation of 1940’s Berlin is outstanding, it is wonderfully scored by Dutch composer Loek Dikkerthe and there are no faults with acting. Each performer does their best with a screenplay that unfortunately reveals itself to be over ambitious and allows very little in the way of emotional connection with its characters. Maybe Margarethe von Trotta should have made a movie of Rosenstrasse without the time shifts and if she felt the need, she could have followed it up with a sequel set in modern times. There are enough interesting ideas and characters in the present day plot to make a separate movie. It is a clever enough idea to include the present day in a historical movie, but a fairly pointless exercise when it interrupts the flow of the movie and leaves you wondering what happens to the modern day family.Even though Rosenstrasse did not pluck at the emotional heartstrings that it desperately wants to, it is still refreshing to see a movie telling a story smaller in scale, yet equally important, as some of the more epic Holocaust films made in recent years.