“Stella, a German life”: a young Jewish woman complicit with the Nazi executioners

“Stella, a German life”: a young Jewish woman complicit with the Nazi executioners

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Blonde hair, blue eyes, lovely face, Stella (Paula Beer) radiates from the first shots. A ball of energy and cheerfulness, radiant smile, supple body, sparkling in her sequined sheath dress during one of her private concerts, the young woman has her whole life ahead of her and dreams that match her ambition – to become a singer jazz on Broadway. Only, we are in Berlin, in 1940. Stella is Jewish. Still living with her parents who were unable to leave the country due to lack of a visa, she still prefers to believe in the future and have fun.

An ellipse is responsible for cutting his dreams short. February 1943, Stella, dressed in a gray overalls with a yellow star sewn on the left, works on the assembly line in an arms factory. Later, going underground, she participated in the production of false papers. The film, in its first part, proceeds in this way quickly, linking together the sequences in a laconic manner, neglecting the narrative framework to the point of making the story confusing. Which becomes more convincing in the second part, which recounts Stella’s 1943 arrest by the Gestapo, the torture and the terrible change that results. The young woman will in fact give in to her tormentors, and, to escape deportation, denounces hundreds of Jews in two years.

Infinite shades

Inspired by the true story of Stella Goldschlag, also known as Stella Kübler (1922-1994), the feature film by Kilian Riedhof (director in 2022 of You Shall Not Have My Hate ) strives to decide the vivid, relying on historical facts (collected in numerous documents, notably the trial files of the Soviet court of 1946) to draw the ambiguous portrait – both victim and culprit –, increasingly dark, of a a woman whose survival instinct pushes her to commit the worst acts possible.

In this role which occupies the entire film and to which she brings infinite nuances, Paula Beer astounds as much as she fascinates. Luminous, seductive and terrifying, Stella, in the guise of the actress, reveals her complexity and remains elusive. Paula Beer thus participates in this feeling of discomfort on which the entire aesthetic of the film works, the (terse) editing, the direction and the untimely camera movements. This choice, which has the merit of destabilizing the story and constantly shaking us up, nevertheless has the unfortunate effect of imposing itself more than it should. To the point of being heavy and then tiring.

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