Barbet Schroeder’s Amnesia is the latest in a series of recent films about whether Germany has reckoned with its past from World War II. Set in the early 1990s at another pivotal point in German history, the film looks back into the past through its protagonist Martha (Marthe Keller) and her interactions with other Germans. Rather than focusing on the perspective of the victims of the holocaust and their families, as in the post-war films Hannah Arendt, Phoenix, and this year’s The People vs. Fritz Bauer, Schroeder’s focus is on the German gentiles and their descendants who either sat idly by or directly participated in the atrocities.
Martha is a German expat living in Ibiza, who hasn’t returned home since the beginning of the war when she escaped. For decades, she’s carried around shame and anger regarding her country’s role in World War II. She insists on boycotting German products — she won’t even take a ride in a Volkswagen, a company supported by the Nazis — out of respect for the Jewish victims. Instead of dealing with her country’s past, she’s merely rejected the German part of her identity, as if that absolves her of guilt.
She lives on a paradisal island full of blue skies, sunny days, and gorgeous views, even if she suffers without electricity: it’s the perfect setting for uncovering and facing ugly truths. When she befriends her new neighbour, the twenty-five-year-old German DJ Jo (Max Riemelt), they form an unlikely bond — a romantic, platonic friendship — challenging and supporting each other in equal measure, in a way they both desperately need.