Friday, October 21, 2011

City of War: The John Rabe Story (2009) A Recomendation

I Had the chance the other evening to watch a DVD of the German film 'The City Of War: The John Rabe Story" It was made in 2009 and I guess not being a mainline Hollywood movie had taken sometime to get to my local video store here in Auckland New Zealand.

The movie is set amidst what is known as 'The Rape Of Nanking' the conquest and destruction and yes attempted genocide of the city of Nanking by the invading Japanese army in 1937-38. It is a hard movie to watch and does not pull any punches in describing the death of over 300,000 people by the Japanese army. It tells the amazing and courageous story of a group of ex pats lead by John Rabe, a German engineer and member of the Nazi party who establish a safe zone within the city and in the process are able to save over 200,000 civilians. Ulrich Tukur plays Rabe an almost reluctant hero who turns his love for the Chinese people he has worked with in Siemens Nanking plant for twenty seven years into a willingness to protect them.

It seems unimaginable to me to see Chinese civilians cowering for protection under a Nazi flag, but as Germany and Japan are allies it is transformed into a plea for humanity in the midst of the worst of mans inhumanity to man.

The city of War is a hard movie to watch and in many ways can leave one brutalised and sickened but also it celebrates the depth of human courage and the power that a commitment to the sanctity of human life can give people to stand up to injustice, violence and evil.

Sadly Rabe's life was never fully celebrated while he was alive. While the final scene in the film depicts the people of Nanking thanking him as he is forced to leave having had the safety zone formalised by the imperial Japanese forces, who hours before had wanted to clear it in a move that echoed the Nazis and the Warsaw ghetto. The film ends (note this could be conceived to be a spoiler) with title plates showing that on his return to Germany Rabe is arrested as a possible Chinese Sympathiser and after the war is refused de-Nazification and so dies alone and impoverished in 1950.

This movie goes someway to inviting us to see a man of great moral integrity and compassion for the great hero he is.

It is well worth a watch and reflection. It  is I believe a great story of hope

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