This movie takes place in Hamburg in 1946, as Keira Knightley arrives from London to join her Colonel husband (Jason Clarke) who is in charge of dealing with the aftermath of a war that left the German city decimated. Though the Allies were permitted to take over the houses of wealthy Germans and evict them during their stay, the Colonel extends the gesture of allowing the father/daughter owner/residents to remain in the palatial mansion, occupying only the top floor while he and his wife live on the main floor. We learn that each family has suffered a tragic personal loss and we see the initial antipathy of the Colonel’s wife to all things German while her military husband insists that the war is over, the Allies have won and it is time for reconciliation.
As the film progresses, a relationship develops between the Colonel’s beautiful wife and the very handsome owner of the house (Alexander Skarsgard), one that is consummated on the dining room table in broad daylight - the most egregious of several unbelievable scenes. His teenage daughter is a surly character, angry at the loss of her mother and the takeover of her home by “the enemy.” She will turn into a pivotal character through her relationship with a young Nazi thug, intent on further terrorist activity. The tension between the love story and the reality of the hostile daughter’s aiding and abetting an imminent assassination becomes an insurmountable obstacle to the audience reaction What is intended as a surprise ending is one we have been rooting for from the get-go, so it seems more of an expectation than a surprise.
The love scenes in this film are graphic and are particularly jarring in a film concerning the larger issues of human suffering on a momentous scale. We alternate between photos of the piles of skeletal bodies in the concentration camps and Keira Knightley’s breasts and buttocks. This duality doesn’t work in the way the scriptwriter might have hoped. Instead of our melting at the triumph of love, we are embarrassed by this attempted manipulation of our emotions at this horrendous historical moment. The movie might more properly have been called The Mishmash.
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