Ending It All
Frau Stern is almost 90 years old and she still has all her faculties. However, she wants to die. She’s been through the holocaust, and even though she’s not really tired of life, she’s done everything she needs to. The film “Frau Stern” is about her search through Berlin for a way to kill herself or so we think. While this is a semi-documentary, we also see that there was a lot of improvisation going on. Anatol Schuster directed the recently deceased Ahuva Sommerfield as Stern who brings us quite a performance.
“I want to die” are the first words we hear Stern tell her doctor who assures her that she is vital. He replies by telling her that living until 90 is a gift and she should enjoy it. Mrs. Stern takes out cigarettes and replies, “If you don’t help me, I’ll help myself!”. Many more memorable one-liners will follow, always wavering between sarcasm and wisdom. We see a harmonious mix of closeness to reality, black humor and absurdity. Ms. Stern is not only an exceptional character piece, but also a study of the environment. The neighborhood pictures that Schuster and his cameraman Adrian Campean capture are both style-conscious and undisguised; the boundaries between fiction and documentary film appear fluid. As Ms. Stern sits in her smoke-filled local pub or in her apartment or walks through the streets, we see some of the most sincere scenes of Berlin. The sincerity of how the film deals with the death wish is amazing. Stern was the only member of her family who survived the Holocaust and she has also lost her beloved husband. The humor in connection with the serious subject of the film arises rather from the lacony of Ms. Stern who lets those around her know that she would like to acquire a gun to shoot herself with. But nobody wants to sell her a gun. When she lies down on the tracks in a remote location and waits for a train, “unfortunately” a friendly dog owner is quickly on the spot to help her up.
Ms. Stern talks about the desire for self-determination; she deals with trauma and grief, shows family conflicts and lived life. We sense that Sommerfeld also incorporated her own biography into her interpretation, and we see the admiration that Schuster shows her as a screenwriter and director. The film is free from bitterness and full of moments in which Ms. Stern interacts with her fellow human beings and builds closeness in her very own, rough way. There are also vocal interludes, seemingly surreal passages – nothing follows a formula. “Ms. Stern” is a courageous, very lively piece of cinema.