Skip to main content

Movie Review: Within The Whirlwind 2009

Marleen Gorris

Movie Review by: Adnan Zahir                        

The events of "Within the Whirlwind" take place in the second half of the thirties of last century in the "former" Soviet Union, now Russia, during the communist era and the reign of Stalin on the party and the state. It is set, specifically, in the period between 1934 to 1939 in which thousands were killed in concentration camps in various parts of the Soviet Union. It is believed that, under Stalin's rule, a million people had been killed in those camps known as the "Gulag", most of them were artists, writers, poets, scientists and politicians. This so-called Great Purge was orchestrated by the chief of Secret Police Nikolai Yezhof.
Artists, scientists etc. in the Gulag
The screenplay, written by Nancy Larsen, is based on the autobiography by the Russian writer Euginea Ginsburg (1906- 1977) who spent about 18 years in Soviet prisons in that period and later published her memoirs in two books.
The movie is directed by one of the most distinguished filmmakers of our time, Marleen Gorris who is a feminist and a rights activist who won the Oscar for best foreign film (1996) for her movie Antonia's Line.

In 1934, following the assassination of one of the party leaders (Sergei Kirov) and the accusation of the Trotskyites of killing him, many communists and intellectuals were either executed or sent to concentration camps. The film tells the story of a professor of literature at the University of Kazan named Ginea (portaryed by the British actress Emily Watson) who was arrested and accused of participating in the alleged plot against Kirov merely because she had defended one of the detainees with whom she had a working relationship. She was charged with spying and espionage, with being anti-Communist and not vigilant to her partisan duties. These charges were easily thrown at anyone and at those suspected of not being loyal to the party or the state. In a trial that lasted seven minutes she was sentenced to ten years in prison and sent to a concentration camp in Siberia. Her husband was also arrested and was sentenced to fifteen years in prison, where he died. Her eldest son died of starvation during the Nazi siege of Stalingrad. Her youngest son went to live with her sister.
In the prison Ginea meets a Russian doctor of German descent, Dr. Walter (portrayed by the German actor Ulrich Tukur) who was detained just because of his German origin.
Genia enters a romantic relationship with Dr. Walter who pracises in the prison and after their release into freedom, their relationship culminates in marriage. Of course, there are some events and facts in the memoirs which are not, as per artistic and technical rationale, mentioned in the movie.
There are many movies that tackled this period, but what distinguishes this one, in my opinion, is that it is oriented to a humanitarian display of facts and events of that period without going into sloganistic lecturing and definitive denunciation of communism as seen
in many other films. The movie, through small events, touches on places that 'hurt' in the experience and the Soviet system, that later factored in the eventual collapse of the socialist system in Russia, without this being said directly. It should be noted that the movie is primarily a German production released in 2009, i.e after Germany was united.
Emily Watson
Now, here are some glimpses of the story told by this movie in bullet points. No spoilers for those who have not yet seen it!
  • The psychological pains experienced by the professor (Ginea) in detention prior before her trial and how bewildered she was by the stance of her colleagues who chose to condemn her despite their knowledge that she was doing what moral and partisan commitment had required.
  • In the detention camps we see professors and intellectuals from all the rare specializations living in situations more fit for animals than humans. They log for lumber in temperatures approximately fifty degrees below zero and suffer hunger and humiliation.
  • The scene when a Caucasian guard puts a piece of bread infront of the women. His 'game' is to have sex in public with whoever takes the bread! The woman who could not resist the bread returns in the night and is heard nibbling the bread on her bed by her mates who pretend they are asleep but they are sad and silent and have no blame for her. 
  • The person who sentenced Ginea to prison, when he himself is brought as a detainee insists that he is innocent and has no remorse for sending people to the Gulag!
  • The insistence of  those wretched women to continue living and have devotion to hope in circumstances devoid of favorable possibilities under persecution, rape and murder.  
What sets this movie apart, although it raises a subject much talked about, is that it is made with simplicity that neither compromises film techniques and aesthetics nor addresses immediate issues or disadvantages of the system in that period which makes it worth watching.
    "Within the Whirlwind" 2009 Also Known As: "Mitten im Sturm"
    98 min, Color. English.
    Genre: Biography/Drama.
    Director:  Marleen Gorris (award-winning German filmmaker)
    Cast: Emily Watson (an English actress who was nomitaed for an Oscar
    for her role in "Breaking the Waves 1996" and "Hilary and Jackie 1998". Ulrich Tukur: award-winning (9) German actor.                                                      



    Popular posts from this blog

    MovieGlobe: Japan's Version of Romeo and Juliet

    Romeo and Juliet (2007) JapanOriginal Article by: Fateh Mirghani-Japan

    I have just finished watching the masterpiece of Shakespeare” Romeo and Juliet “in its Japanese version.
    The quality of the movie is great and the soundtrack, injected with a little Japanese folklore music, has given it a sensational dimension and Eastern fascination!
    Basically, the theme of the movie remains the same as the original play, and that has been a particular Japanese notion in dealing with other nations’ cultural products. Part of the reason may lay in Japan's sensitivity to other nations’cultural products- given the long standing historical disputes with its neighbours, and part of it may lay in a fierce sense of homogeneity that has come to characterize Japan as an island nation-state since time immemorial. Thus the Japanese, unlike the Americans, don’t seem to have the temerity to ‘Japanize’ others’ cultural stuff. The movie “Renaissance man”  can be cited as an example of American boldness. The …

    Thursday Evening

    Short Story by Ali Elmak* Translated by MM
    Getting off the tram, he slipped. Was it the right or the left foot that skidded? It did not matter!  All that mattered really, all that he cared for at that hour, at that moment, was that he fell and soiled his pants. those characteristically beautiful white pants which he had preserved for Thursday evenings; for the soiree gatherings which started by hanging around in the market; loitering for short or long periods; then to the cinema house; any film and peace be upon him. Then, was this bad luck or what? Did he really need to take the tram for such a short distance? “That was a fair reward for your laziness” he said to himself. As for those pants, they were turned into a dusty colored thing. The more he shook those tiny particles off, the closer they became attached to the pants. Oh what a gloomy evening for you!  "Is this what concerned you?" thought he.

    The posters of Alan Ladd and Van Heflin still stood their, at the cinema entrance.…

    Movie Critic Review: Zorba The Greek (1964)

    " All right, we go outside where God can see us better." Alexis Zorba "God has a very big heart but there is one sin he will not forgive; [slaps table] if a woman calls a man to her bed and he will not go. I know because a very wise old Turk told me." Alexis Zorba

    Zorba (Anthony Quinn) with a lascivious look lays the gentle order, 'Two beds Madam. Without bugs!' Mme Hortense defiantly tilts her head and answers proudly, 'Mme has not THE bugs!'

    The bookish intellectual Basil  (Alan Bates) who has appeared unaffected by the collective vertigo experienced on the boat taking them to Crete, did not seem interested in this outward and stimulated first-time exchange between his newly-found companion, a robust natural philosopher named Alexis Zorbas and this old lady who rushed  to offer them her hospitality services in her own (Marriot) of a dilapidated house on this island of pathos and the poor. Mme Hortense then treats the c…