Review: Two Lives, Germany’s Oscar Entry


Documentary filmmaker Georg Maas (“The Buddha Wallah”, “The Real World of Peter Gabriel”) spent years developing his engrossing layered story about the after effects of World War ll on a generation of children, born of Norwegian mothers and Occupying Nazi SS officers, who were stolen from their mothers and raised in Germany. Most were unable to return across the Iron Curtain. “Two Lives” is a portrait of mother and daughter who were “reunited.” 

Lebensborn was founded by SS Reichführer Heinrich Himmler to increase Germany’s stock of “racially pure” Ayran children. It created birthhomes in Germany and its occupied countries and arranged illegal “adoptions” of Nordic “orphans”.

The film was based on Hannelore Hippe’s novel “Eiszeiten”, itself based on an unsolved mystery. Hippe collaborated on the script with Georg Maas, Christoph Tölle, Ståle Stein Berg & Judith Kaufmann. 

Juliane Köhler (‘Downfall”) an actress of exceptional banked fires, plays Katrine, mother, grandmother and wife to Norwegian Naval Officer Bjarte Myrdal (Sven Nordin-“Elling”), no doubt the most perfect husband ever met on film. Her doting mother Ase Evensen, (Liv Ullmann, at the top of her form), moves in with her family to help take care of granddaughter Anne’s newborn baby. Divorced Anne (Julia Bache-Wiig-“Turn Me On, Dammit!”) is studying to pass the bar. Life is good. Living on the coast, they can Kayak in their “backyard.”

But Katrine has a secret. Her name is Eva Freund; she’s lived decades as Katrine Evensen Myrdal, planted like a cuckoo in the nest of Norwegian Lebensborn mother Ase. They are known as the only instance of a “reunited” mother and child.

As Vera, in a dark wig, she travels to the former GDR to track down any evidence or witnesses to her past. An adept at tradecraft, she contacts West German businessmen Hugo (Rainer Bock) and Kahlmann (Thomas Lawincky). Long entrenched in the West, they are worried.

Recruited as a young orphan (Klara Manzel), by friendly men bearing gifts to her Children’s Home, the ambitious mole or “Peace Agent’ has an arranged position at the Norwegian Naval yards. All she wants to do is please her handlers. Living in the free West is a bonus. While reporting to the Stasi, she falls in love with handsome young Officer Bjarte Myrdal (Thorbjørn Harr )and receives permission from her handlers to marry.

But the dissolution of the GDR and ensuing reparations lawsuits, like the one that draws her into it’s wake, threatens to expose her immense lie and the long planted Stasi handlers who control her.

Persistent lawyer Sven Solbach arrives at her door, asking Asa and Katrine, as the only reunited Lebensborn mother and daughter, to appear at the hearings. He is determined to prosecute the East German Case and to expose cooperation of West Germany to bury the truth rather than reunite the families.. Katrine resists and lies to him,

She has a lot to lose. Her alter identity has a loving multi-generational family and a good job, everything a woman hopes for. Still active, her handlers risk even more. As the hearings get under way, with the cooperation of reluctant Katrine and her family, they raise the stakes.

Ken Duken plays handsome Sven Solbach, the diligent young lawyer, attracted to Anne, who helps bring the true story to the surface, at a great, unexpected  cost to Katrine and her family.

And what of the real Katrine?  A centerpiece hearing is interleaved with flashbacks of an successful escape from the GDR by Kathrin Lehnhaber (Vicky Krieps) and her attempt to find her mother.

DP Judith Kaufmann “Hearts Of Fire” “When We Leave’) frames an expressive production by Bader El Hindi  Kaufmann’s austere shooting style, including an impressive climactic longshot, ratchets up the tension. A clever edit by Hansjörg Weißbrich (“Summer Storm”, “Night Train to Lisbon ” City of War: The Story of John Rabe”), a persuasive score, alternatingly lyrical and suspenseful by Christoph Kaiser & Julian Maas completes the elegant package.

“In the 1960’s the East German Intelligence Service infiltrated agents with faked Liebensborn identities into Norwegian families To this day, not all of them have been exposed.  In 1970 the half-burnt corpse of a woman was discovered in the Isdal forest near Bergan. She could not be identified. Police investigations indicate that espionage was involved but to this day the case has not been solved.” (End credits)


About Author

Robin Menken

Robin Menken Robin Menken lives in Los Angeles. She was the Artistic Director of the Second City Workshops, taught at UC Berkeley, USC, Barcelona\'s Ateneu and the Esalin Institute. She was Roberto Rossellini\'s assistant, and worked with Yevgeny Vevteshenku, Glauber Rocha and Eugene Ionesco. She sold numerous screenplays and wrote the OBIE winning The FTA SHow (touring with Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland and Ben Vereen.) She was a programming consultant and Special Events co-ordinator for numerous film festivals, including the SF, Rio, Havana and N.Y Film Festivals. Her first news outlet was the historic East Village Other.

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