City of War: The Story of John Rabe (R15)

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The ViewAuckland Review

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Review byMatthew Turner1/04/2010

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 124 mins

Impressively directed, superbly written and impeccably acted, this is a powerfully emotional drama that tells a remarkable true story.

What's it all about?
Written and directed by Florian Gallenberger, City of War: The Story of John Rabe tells the remarkable true story of John Rabe (Ulrich Tukur), a German businessman and member of the Nazi party who saved more than 200,000 Chinese during the Nanking Massacre in December 1937. The film opens with Rabe and his wife Dora (Dagmar Manzel) preparing to leave Nanking after 30 years, but when the Japanese bomb the city, Girl's College director Valerie Dupres (Anne Consigny) and Jewish German diplomat Dr Rosen (Daniel Bruhl) persuade John to stay and use his influence to help set up a safety zone for civilians.

However, the zone is quickly inundated with hundreds of thousands of people and it becomes more and more difficult to feed them all. Meanwhile, the Japanese Army, led by Prince Asaka (Teruyuki Kagawa), unleash a wave of devastating brutality on the civilian population and routinely execute their prisoners of war, which causes Valerie and John to break the conditions of the zone by secretly hiding soldiers.

The Good
Unsurprisingly, the film has a lot in common with Schindler's List and Gallenberger makes good use of some bitter dramatic ironies, such as the fact that the workers at his factory are saved by huddling under a giant Nazi flag (causing the bombers to stop bombing) or that Rabe writes a letter to Hitler, imploring him to stop the atrocities being committed by the Japanese Army.

The characters are extremely well drawn and the performances are excellent. Ulrich Tukur is superb as Rabe, commanding quiet authority simply by being well-liked and respected by his friends and employees. Consigny and Bruhl are equally good and there's also strong support from a terrific international cast that includes Zhang Jingchu (as a female photographer who falls for Rosen) and Steve Buscemi as an American doctor who's initially suspicious of Rabe's Nazi status. (Also, you have to love a film which features Steve Buscemi delivering a rousing rendition of the Colonel Bogey March.)

The Great
In addition, the script is extremely well written and Gallenberger orchestrates several memorable scenes that are by turns horrifying, suspenseful and emotionally devastating.

Worth seeing?
City of War: The Story of John Rabe is a well made, superbly acted drama that tells a gripping true story and packs a devastating emotional punch. Highly recommended.

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Content updated: 27/01/2020 19:35

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