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A woman learns that her husband leads a double life as part of an East German domestic spying program; in confronting his other wife, she also faces her own denial and self-deception. Two sisters grow up to espouse liberal ideals, but one becomes a terrorist in the radical underground. In Nazi Germany, Aryan wives of condemned Jews stand outside the holding facility in civil disobedience to demand their husbands’ release.
These are among the character studies conducted by renowned German screenwriter and director Margarethe von Trotta, who visited Skidmore in April. After her Steloff Lecture, she and two colleagues—actress Barbara Sukowa and screenwriter Pamela Katz—spent four hours in public panel discussions with several Skidmore faculty members. One panelist said von Trotta’s characters, when they begin to realize they’ve been playing a gender role they didn’t fully understand, reminded her of women in Margaret Atwood’s books. The acclaimed author of The Edible Woman, The Handmaid’s Tale, and other novels, Atwood had been on campus a few months earlier, also as a Steloff Lecturer. Her Booker Prize–winning The Blind Assassin was cited by Time magazine for its “nested narratives, subtle reveals, and buried memories”—all common features of von Trotta’s work too.
Identity, as von Trotta and Sukowa explained, has been a crucial issue for their generation, which grew up in Germany with fathers who were either missing or impossible to respect because
of their role in Nazism and World War II. Shame and silence about family history, they said, prevented many postwar children from developing a complete, healthy identity.
Von Trotta has explored such political-psychological dilemmas and dependencies in more than a dozen movies, including Rosenstrasse, which won the 2004 Donatello Award for best European film, and Marianne and Juliane, which earned the 1981 Venice Film Festival’s best-director award as well as one reviewer’s praise as “a work of lacerating intelligence and heroic
conviction.” Those and three other films (one of them not yet released in the US) were screened at Skidmore just before von Trotta’s visit. —SR