© Wild Bunch/Central

Die Mittagsfrau
Germany/Switzerland/Luxembourg 2023

Opening 28 Sep 2023

Directed by: Barbara Albert
Writing credits: Meike Hauck, Barbara Albert, Meike Hauck, Julia Franck
Principal actors: Mala Emde, Max von der Groeben, Thomas Prenn, Liliane Amuat, Fabienne Elaine Hollwege

Helene Wursich (Mala Emde) leaves her seven-year-old son, Peter, on a bench near a train station and disappears. Ten years later, she visits Peter, now a teenager living at his uncle’s house. Between these events we experience Helene growing up with her nine-year-older sister Martha (Liliane Amuat) in Bautzen, Germany, in the 1920-30s. They cuddle up in bed, living in a messy house with their Jewish mother, Selma, who suffers from some kind of lunacy. Their father left long ago. As a teenager, Helene follows Martha to Berlin where she hopes to study medicine. Eventually, she works both in a pharmacy and as a nurse in a hospital. There is Kurt (Thomas Prenn) and also Carl, and eventually a pregnancy and an abortion. She marries Wilhelm (Max von der Goeben), who acquires legal papers for her, under a new name: Alice Sehmirch. This deletes her Jewish history, which is helpful since we are now in the 1940s’ Nazi era. Wilhelm is an absent father of Peter, having taken off quite early. 

Die Mittagsfrau could translate literally to “mid-day woman” or perhaps “noon lady.” She is mentioned once, perhaps twice, as “someone” to talk to, perhaps as a symbol, but never appears in person, if I understand correctly. Helena’s nickname is Engelchen or little angel. It is based on the 2007 book of the same title by Julia Franck, which I read in order to help me fill in answers to some questions, e.g., is Helene an example of a Mittagsfrau? Speaking of questions, this film would be perfect for a group of film lovers to view and then discuss, comparing impressions and various comprehensions. (Becky Tan)

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