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John Rabe (2010)

A movie directed by Florian Gallenberger

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An Extraordinary Person

  • Jun 24, 2010
"John Rabe"
An Extraordinary Person
Amos Lassen

John Rabe was the head of the international organization that tried to save the Nanjing Chinese from the horrible treatment they were receiving from their Japanese conquerors in 1937-38. Somewhere between 200,000 and 300,000 Chinese were killed and the Japanese continue to deny this. The Chinese were buried alive, beheaded in competitions, shot by machine guns and burned alive. The women were gang raped and if they were not dead by the time this was over, they were then sexually mutilated. This is an event that many of us are not familiar with. The Rape of Nanking is a horrible event in our history and in this country, I am pretty sure, and that most Americans have not heard of Rabe.
This is a German film that tells us Rabe's story. He was a loyal Nazi who worked for Hitler and the Nazi regime in Nanking as the director of the German Industrial Siemens factory when the Japanese invaded China in 1937. Rabe was forced to take action and make decisions that would affect the lives of over 200,000 Chinese. The film is a personal look at this war story based on the actual history of what happened and the brutality of what you see is mixed some very touching human scenes. Interspersed throughout are black and white newsreels which make us realize that although this is a fascinating story, it actually happened. What is unusual is that here we do not see the Germans doing the killing but the Japanese. There is one scene in which we see Rabe (anciently played by Ulrich Tukur who won the German Academy Award for his performance) outraged at the Japanese who are Allies of the Germans. He sends a telegram to Hitler asking him and expecting him to demand that the Japanese stop killing people.
Steve Buscemi plays Dr. Robert Wilson, the American doctor who founded the hospital in Nanking and worked very closely with Rabe. Florian Gallenberger both wrote and directed the film after spending years researching it. The Chinese government did not cooperate during preparations for the film.
The film, I understand, is not in sync with Rabe's personal diary which is much more interesting and dynamic than the movie. The movie tends to sensationalize but it does so as it recreates a hero. There is a great deal of symbolism and selective detail between what actually happened and what we see. What really makes this so interesting is that Rabe, a Nazi, risks his life to do the right thing. This is a large movie with solid performances but it has the burden of having many clichés in the screenplay and this hurts the character development. The story is also told almost exclusively from a western point of view. From the beginning of "John Rabe" the viewer is uncomfortably aware of watching a wartime melodrama that, despite its honorable intentions, will throw in any emotional ploy to keep you engaged.

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More John Rabe (2010) reviews
review by . June 28, 2011
'To the Führer of the German people. Chancellor Adolf Hitler. My Führer. As a loyal party member and upstanding German. I turn to you in a time of great need. The Japanese Imperial troops conquered the city of Nanking on December 12, 1937. Since then I have witnessed atrocious crimes against civilians. Please help to end this catastrophe and make an appeal to our Japanese allies in the name of humanity. With a German salute, John Rabe ' This is an actual letter, unheeded, that …
About the reviewer
Amos Lassen ()
Ranked #208
I am an academic who reivews movies and books of interest to the GLBT and Jewish communities.   I came to Arkansas after having been relocated here due to Hurricane Katrina. I was living in … more
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About this movie


Based on actual events, John Rabe tells the story of a German businessman who rescued more than 200,000 Chinese during the Nanking Massacre in China by courageously negotiating a safety zone to protect innocent civilians from the Japanese Army. Drawing from John Rabe s 1937 diaries as source material, Academy Award® Winner Florian Gallenberger has crafted a portrait of a man revered as a saint in China to this day and yet never rewarded for his courage during his lifetime. Ulrich Tukur (The White Ribbon, The Lives Of Others) heads an all-star cast including Daniel Bruhl (Inglorious Basterds), Anne Consigny (The Diving Bell and the Butterfuly) and Golden Globe Nominee® Steve Buscemi (Ghost World, The Big Lebowski).
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DVD Release Date: September 7, 2010
Runtime: 134 minutes
Studio: Strand Releasing
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