Germany's first fictional mvoie about the Allied bombing of Dresden was screened at the Berlin Film Festival this week, in a fresh sign the country is finally confronting its own wartime suffering.
The film depicts the tragic love story between a German nurse and British pilot
"Dresden -- The Inferno" tells the story of how the architectural jewel in eastern Germany known as Florence on the Elbe was reduced to rubble within hours in the British and US bombing of Feb. 13-14, 1945.
At least 35,000 people died, including hundreds of refugees who had fled the horrors of the east front.
The producers have been screening the picture to potential international buyers this week at the Berlin Film Festival. They said it had taken more than six decades to make a drama focused on the horror German civilians faced during such bombing campaigns -- a lasting taboo in the country.
"The film shows from the start that the Nazis were the ones who were guilty of starting the war," said Günther van Endert, an editor with public broadcaster ZDF, which will show the film as a two-part miniseries in March.
"That does not mean we have to shy away from the fact that civilians suffered horribly," van Endert said.
A love story facing horrific bombing
The film tells the moving love story of Anna, a German nurse treating wounded soldiers from the front (Felicitas Woll), and Robert, a British pilot (John Light), whose plane is shot down near Dresden just days before the bombardment.
It took a decade to reconstruct Dresden's Church of Our Lady
Robert survives by hiding in the hospital where Anna works. Although Anna is engaged to a young doctor, she is drawn to the silent Briton and helps him evade the Gestapo. The bombing begins just as Anna attempts to flee the city with her family and the ensuing horror is depicted with apocalyptic scenes in the film. A woman drags a flaming baby carriage, men on crutches struggle to dodge falling rubble from burning buildings and old women beg a soldier to shoot them rather than die of carbon monoxide poisoning in an air raid shelter.
The Church of Our Lady, which was painstakingly reconstructed and reopened last October, crumbles in a heap after the heat of the nearby bombing melts its mortar.
Movie aims to show how civilians suffered
Although the plight of German civilians during World War II has been the subject of a few bestselling books in recent years, "Dresden -- The Inferno" breaks new ground.
"These are scenes never shown before in a German film," said screenwriter Stefan Kolditz. "They are bound to be shocking for audiences."
The sculpture The Goodness overlooks Dresden then and now
Van Endert said it was not an attempt to be voyeuristic.
"We felt we owed it to the victims to show how they suffered," van Endert said.
But even after the wrenching scenes of dead bodies strewn in the streets and incomprehensible devastation, the movie makes a point of showing Nazis forcing concentration camp prisoners to clean up rubble and shooting looters.
Based on historical documentation
The film also contradicts a common notion in Germany "that England wanted to kill as many people as possible," van Endert said, and that Dresden had no strategic importance in a war that was almost over.
Working with British and German historians, the filmmakers documented the fact that Dresden was a key supply hub for the Germans on the east front, had a major Gestapo headquarters and a poison gas factory.
The film has a budget of 10 million euros ($11.9 million) and is billed as the most expensive German television film ever made.
Van Endert said that the meticulous effort to strike a balance in the film had nothing to do with political correctness.
"We wanted to show there were two sides of the story," he said. "That wasn't sales strategy; it was simply important to us."