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by Kilian Riedhof

grade: 7.5

In Stella. A Life., the seemingly simple but eventful plot unfolds, which is the life of one of the many people who used to denounce Jews, a traitor on many levels, through 40 years of personal but also German history.

Moral dilemmas

What would you have done? Stella. A Life. by Kilian Riedhof is a story that challenges the boundaries of ethics and morality, which were severely tested during the Third Reich. The story of Stella Goldschlag, a Jewess who, in order to save herself and her family, decided to denounce hundreds of Jews to the Gestapo, is told as realistically as possible, authentically and with a great play of light and atmosphere that best represents the divergent souls that populated a “counter-movement” situation.

The true story of Stella Goldschlag (Paula Beer, perfect in the role), a German Jew who grew up during the National Socialist occupation, is one of many, all similar, read and heard over the years. Young and exuberant, the protagonist of Stella. A Life. dreams of a future as a jazz singer, a genre on the rise at the time but still too American for the traditionalist and conservative National Socialists. Nevertheless, the presence at an event of a Hollywood impresario seems to presage a successful future for the lead singer and her colleagues from the Jewish school, all brilliant musicians.

We are in 1943 and in Berlin, for Jews, there was only one possibility: run away and hide. Thus begins a seemingly eternal phase, in which Stella and her parents Toni (Katja Riemann) and Gerd (Lukas Miko) are forced to continually search for solutions until the inevitable arrest by the Gestapo, always ready to listen to possible informers. In order to save herself from deportation, Stella too begins to betray other Jews together with her fiancé and future husband Rolf (Jannis Niewöhner), causing them to be arrested by the Gestapo. Fate seems written. And indeed it was.

In Stella. A Life. the apparently simple but eventful plot unfolds, which is the life of one of history’s many Jewish traitors, a traitor on many levels, through 40 years of personal but also German history, first the Third Reich and then split into East and West. Written by Riedhof himself, together with Jan Baren and Marc Blöbaum, the research and screenplay work that is evident from watching the film is of considerable importance and historical accuracy. In order not to make one of the many films that have only the intention of being historical, in the depiction of a character who from innocent becomes malevolent (and who also seems to enjoy it), I find interesting the choice to abstain from being judgmental, opting for the direct objectivity of the facts, however brutal and morally reprehensible.

Who would do something like that? Indeed, precisely to emphasise the paradox of ‘saving oneself by condemning others’ – and of war in general – Stella, Rolf and the drummer of the jazz band dance in an abandoned flat, while bombs and missiles explode outside, illuminating the night with a smoky, looming light visible through the skylight. In this regard, the excellent job of cinematographer Benedikt Neuenfels should be emphasised. He was able to create antithetical worlds by often using cold blue and warm red lighting, in a kind of ‘water vs. fire’ at the time of National Socialism, giving Stella. A Life. that noir character in which espionage and delusion blend perfectly.

Special mention for the glittering brooches, used together with a few soft lights and many (especially moral) shadows, symbols perhaps of a pulsating soul capable of illuminating, at least partially, the darkness that the Third Reich period has always represented. Slightly technical final comment: the direction and editing of short and fast scenes in succession is excellent, capable of combining intense close-ups and very rapid scene changes – reminiscent of Mad Max: Fury Road by George Miller – with as many blurred fade-outs, which give a historical and didactic touch to the final result, showing great synergy between writing, filming and production. Arm in arm, as they say.

Original title: Stella. Ein Leben.
Directed by: Kilian Riedhof
Country/year: Germany, Austria / 2023
Running time: 121’
Genere: drama, war
Cast: Paula Beer, Jannis Niewöhner, Katja Riemann, Joel Basman, Damian Hardung, Lukas Miko, Bekim Latifi, Maeve Metelka, Nadja Sabersky, Julia Anna Grob, Alexander Martschewski, Vincent Koch, Konstantin Gries, Joshua Seelenbinder, Max Schimmelpfennig, Mortiz Führmann, Katja Bürkle, Max Wagner, Heike Jonca, Steffen Münster, Markus Schleinzer, Gerdy Zint, Mathis Reinhardt, Nikolai Will, Ulrich Schmissat, Hendrik Arnst, Roland Silbernagl, Christoph Luser, Max Krause, Rony Herman, Ruth Marie Kröger
Screenplay: Marc Blöbaum, Jan Braren, Kilian Riedhof
Cinematography: Benedict Neuenfels
Produced by: Dor Film, Letterbox Filmproduktion, SevenPictures Film, Real Film Berlin, Amalia Film

Info: the page of Stella. A Life. on iMDb; the page of Stella. A Life. on the website of the Dor Film; the page of Stella. A Life. on the website of the Österreichisches Filminstitut