Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Die Himmelsleiter (4 Stars)

The film takes place in Cologne in 1947. Two years after the war the city is still in ruins, and people have to live in houses with missing walls. Rubble is piled up in the streets. The film's title translates as "Stairway to Heaven", but that doesn't give any help understanding what the film is about. "Himmelsleiter" was the name given to a safe path from Germany to Belgium that avoided the minefields.

The film tells the tale of two families, the Roth family and the Zettler family. Anna Roth is married to a Jew who has been missing since he was taken to a concentration camp in 1941. She assumes her husband is dead, but as we see early in the film he was captured by the Russians after being freed from his camp. They are now forcing him to work in a coal mine in Hungary. Anna's daughter Sophie has married an Italian, but after it's discovered that he was using a fake passport to live in Germany the marriage was declared invalid, and she is now dating a Belgian soldier.

Armin Zettler was a high ranking official in the Nazi Party during the war. He offered to help Jews escape if they gave him their jewels, but he let them be arrested anyway. Now the war is over he is using his money to buy property. He wants to acquire a large block of houses which he can sell to the Belgian army to build new barracks. As a good friend of the Belgians he thinks he is immune from punishment for his Nazi past. Armin's son Bruno is dating Anna's daughter Eva.

One thing that unites the two families is their love for the annual carnival. In fact, the carnival unites the whole city and gives them hope for the future. Anna, Armin and many other minor characters in the film are preparing for 1948, when they want to hold the first carnival since the war. The carnival was and still is a major event in the city of Cologne. It's something that can make the people happy, even if it's celebrated in the middle of a city in ruins.

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