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Picks and Pans Review: A Love in Germany

updated 12/03/1984 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/03/1984 01:00AM

Only once has an actress in a non-English-speaking role won an Academy Award. That was nearly 25 years ago, when Sophia Loren got an Oscar for the Italian-made Two Women. If quality is any barometer in such contests, though, Polish-born Hanna Schygulla—known principally for the 18 films she made with the late German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder (including the remarkable The Marriage of Maria Braun in 1979)—should be a shoo-in for this year's Best Actress award. The range and subtlety she brings to this film transcend language barriers and subtitles. The luminous Schygulla, now 40 and at the peak of her powers, plays a hausfrau in a small German town during World War II. She falls in love with a young handyman, Piotr Lysak, while her husband serves in the Army, but this is no common tale of adultery. Polish director Andrzej {Man of Iron) Wajda is concerned with exposing the infectious spread of Nazism into the fiber of German life. Schygulla's lover is a Polish prisoner of war, and the law expressly forbids, under penalty of death, sexual relations between Germans and "inferior" foreigners. The law, of course, cannot be enforced without local informants. Most movies about this period put the onus of evil on the Nazi hierarchy. Wajda uses his film to indict those allegedly "good" Germans, exemplified by Marie-Christine Barrault as a scheming neighbor and Bernhard Wicki as a cowardly doctor, who allowed human rights to be trampled for their own venal ends. In this context, Schygulla's progressively heedless and hopeless love affair with the Pole—who refuses to deny his heritage in order to save himself—takes on heroic proportions. Schygulla charts her character's course from eroticism to political passion with dazzling virtuosity. Her final scene of disgrace is shattering. A Love in Germany is the best foreign film of the year, crowned by the best performance by an actress in any language. (R)

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