Angry Harvest (1985)

“But I’m afraid of women. I can’t talk to them. I can’t handle them.”

In Angry Harvest (Bittere Ernte) director Agnieszka Holland takes a different look at the persecution of the Jews during WWII through the story of one Jewish woman, Rosa (Elisabeth Trissenaar) and the Silesian farmer Leon Wolny (Armin Mueller-Stahl) who saves her. When the film begins, Rosa, her husband and child escape from a transport train loaded with Jews headed to a concentration camp. They become separated, and Rosa is close to death from starvation when lonely, bachelor farmer Leon discovers her in a wood outside of town. He takes her home, hides her in the cellar of his simple home, and nurses her through a fever.

In saving Rosa, Leon is not motivated by altruism. He always wanted to be a priest, and attended the seminary for years before being forced back by circumstance to work on the farm. He’s lonely, and though the local priest insists Leon should find a wife, Leon admits that he’s afraid of women and that he “can’t control them.” This is where Rosa enters the picture. Stuffed in the cellar with Leon providing food and the occasional moment of fresh air, Rosa–in essence–becomes Leon’s prisoner. And the relationship between Leon and Rosa–based on power and control–becomes twisted.

There’s a degree of psychological cruelty here as Leon takes Rosa’s scarf to leave in the forest as a sign to her husband. Leon’s role as exclusive protector against a trip to the concentration camps really doesn’t need to be magnified, but he does magnify it–even staging a Nazi raid at one point. The film also emphasizes the point that Leon’s stature as a food provider elevates his social status during wartime, and he finds himself suddenly occupying a much more respected position in the community.

Armin Mueller-Stahl delivers a wonderful performance as the strange, lonely farmer, and the script doesn’t spare his character when it comes to illuminating his less-than-pure motives in this marvellous film. Keep an eye open for Fassbinder regulars Kurt Raab and Margit Carstensen. In German with English subtitles.

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