It’s a big subject that the Austrian director Barbara Albert has taken on with the film “Die Mittagsfrau”. Julia Franck’s novel of the same name is complex and goes into depth. In 2007 it was awarded the German Book Prize.

“The book impresses with its linguistic force, narrative power and psychological intensity,” was the jury’s reasoning at the time. The story is told by Helene Würsich, who, after the Second World War, leaves her little son behind at a train station in the provinces for no apparent reason and simply leaves. Even though she used to be a “little angel,” Helene – played by Mala Emde – became hers Called Sister Martha (Liliane Amuat). Back then, Helene was still helpful, emotional, inquisitive, ambitious: she really wanted to become a doctor. Together with her sister, she flees from her mentally ill mother to live with an aunt in fun-loving Berlin in the 1920s. Instead of neat pigtails, she now wears her hair short, she gets used to smoking, falls in love with the sensitive literature student Karl (Thomas Prenn), and together they run naked through Berlin at night.

Looking for an old identity

It is the last good time in her life. Karl dies, the Nazis are already lurking. The woman, hungry for life, closes herself off: instead of being a doctor, she becomes a nurse, her hair grows back, she no longer wears shimmering dresses, but rather high-necked blouses. In the hospital, she is required to show “Aryan proof”; no one knows about her Jewish origins. Maybe the uniformed Wilhelm (Max von der Groeben) will save her life; he falls in love with Helene, but she doesn’t return his feelings. And yet she marries him because Wilhelm gives her fake papers and thus security. But the price is high: the once intellectual, powerful Helene becomes Alice, the staid, frustrated housewife. She has lost not only her external identity, but also her internal identity. Only rarely does the old willpower flare up again – for example when Wilhelm leaves her and the baby. They would survive, she tells her husband goodbye. In fact, she got herself and her son through the war years as a single, working mother. Then she leaves and goes in search of her old identity. Of course, the film cannot describe the story as vividly and in detail as the book; many strands, such as the fate of Helene’s father or her sister Martha, are only hinted at. But the film is exciting, the story is captivating, which is also due to the complex characters. Husband Wilhelm, in all his brutality, is not only portrayed as the evil one – but also as a man whose dream of life and love has also been destroyed.