Directed by: Georg Maas, Judith Kaufmann | 97 minutes | drama, thriller | Actors: Juliane Köhler, Liv Ullmann, Sven Nordin, Ken Duken, Julia Bache-Wiig, Rainer Bock, Thomas Lawincky, Klara Manzel, Vicky Krieps, Dennis Storhøi, Ursula Werner, Jürgen Rißmann, Ralf Dittrich, Christian Steyer, Mathias Harrebye-Brandt
Norway 1990. Katrine Evensen (Juliane Köhler), who grew up in Germany, has been in the country for twenty years. Her Norwegian mother Åse (Liv Ullmann) became pregnant in WWII by a German soldier who died on the battlefield, after which her daughter was placed in an (East) German children’s home. In 1969, that daughter fled in a boat from the GDR to Denmark, after which she went in search of her biological mother. Nice huh? And true. ‘Zwei Leben’, the German entry for the 2014 Oscars, takes 1990 as its starting point. This is no coincidence, because after the fall of the Wall it became possible for many of Katrine’s fellow sufferers to search for their biological mother. In the film this results in a lawsuit for grief money, in which Katrine does not seem to be hungry. That too has a reason; the viewer now knows that her case stinks.
Katrine’s ties with the GDR have not yet been completely cut off, and by 1990 not all perversions of the communist regime had been erased. Perhaps a bit cryptic, but director Georg Maas makes this reality collide nicely with the (false) reality of family happiness. After all, Maas has already placed Katrine – married to a Norwegian submarine captain (Sven Nordin) – at the heart of a harmonious family, which has since been expanded with a grandchild. While the sympathy lies with Katrine, she is simultaneously unmasked. That too happens in layers, so that the viewer can gradually grow along with the idea that family happiness is collapsing. In fact, from that moment on, Katrine and her family will have a common enemy that is not served by fairness.
A chilling moment in three quarters of the film makes it clear that this family drama could also have been a chilling thriller. That opportunity is not exploited to the maximum and the end is settled a little too quickly to really be able to speak of a top film. But that lock is also quite defensible on the other hand. And there is enough left to come across as Oscar-worthy, although ‘Zwei Leben’ after ‘Barbara’ and ‘Das Leben der Anderen’ – the last film actually won – is already the third film with a GDR- theme in the list of German Oscar nominees. By the way, the Norwegian title of this co-production is ‘To liv’. The play on words is nice, but Ullmann, who rarely appears on the big screen, has to leave the heaviest part in this film to Juliane Köhler (Eva Braun in ‘Der Untergang’).