City of War
I’ve heard a little about the Nanking massacre, and how foreigners set up a safty zone to help save the local Chinese population from the Japanese army, but I’d never heard about John Rabe or how a devote Nazi stood up and used his connections to try and save as many innocent Chinese civilians as he could.
Thanks to how history is taught, and to the many Hollywood films that are around, we tend to only think of Nazi’s as evil people. We never really stop and wonder if there was ever anyone who could be considered a good Nazi.
John Rabe has – and rightly so – been called the Schindler of the East. Both were German industrialists, both found their way to greatness quite by accident, and possibly only because of their concern for the future of their business. But once thrust into the situation, they both seemed to embrace it with open arms.
Rabe was working for Siemens in China, when in 1937 he is about to hand over management to new manager and fly back to Berlin for what he thinks is a promotion. He soon discovers however that the plant he has worked 30 years to build is to be decommissioned as his return to Berlin will not be for a promotion. It seems that Hitler has different plans for China.
But when Japanese plans bomb Nanking during a farewell ball in his honor, Rabe hold on to control of the Siemens factory so he can shelter his workforce under the Nazi flag – a symbol not even the Japanese will bomb.
This one action seems to put Rabe on a course that will test his faith in Germany, and will lead him on a collision course with destiny.
Essentially. Rabe’s actions saved the lives of over 200,000 Chinese civilians. Of course, he had to be pushed and prodded into his role, and without the help, support and direction of others, Rabe would probably have become a name lost in the fog of war.
The story is a fascinating look at a man who when we first meet him is infuriated with these silly Chinese people who are so dumb, but will always do what you tell them. The progression from a person in authority over the Chinese to a person with empathy for the Chinese, indeed a person who would willingly lay down his life, is amazing.
Then on the other side of the story we see the stark contrast of the Japanese who want nothing more than to lay waste to the entire population. However to paint the Japanese with the same broad stroke as we often do Nazis, we would miss out on the role of a young Japanese major who is uneasy about the massacre of civilians, who is pivotal at one point in the story in saving the people in the safely zone.
Though the only recognisable face for many will be that of Steve Buscemi – who as usual is magnificent – City of War also stars the very capable Ulrich Tukur in the lead role, who has had many memorable performances (The Lives of Others, Seraphine, North Face) and Daniel Brühl (Inglourious Basterds, The Bourne Ultimatum, The Edukators) as well as a supporting cast of whom many portray characters who will easily find a place in your heart.
City of War will probably fly under the radar for most people, but for those who enjoy a decent historical drama, I can’t recommend City of War enough. On the story alone it’s worth watching, but when you add in the performances, it takes it to a whole new level. To put it in perspective, my wife who hates ware movies absolutely loved it.
Reviewed by: Jonathan