Legendary Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Holland (Europa, Europa) is the director of Bittere Ernte a.k.a Angry Harvest (1985), a film that was nominated by the now defunct West Germany as the country's official Oscar-entry some twenty one years ago.
Set during WW2 the story of Bitter Harvest evolves around the fate of two people – a wealthy German peasant named Leon (Armin Mueller-Stahl) and Rosa (Elisabeth Trissenaar), an upper-class Jewish woman, attempting to evade the Nazis. When Leon discovers Rosa nearby his house he gives her shelter, helps her get back on her feet, and ultimately falls in love with her. Unfortunately, Rosa isn't ready to respond to Leon's feelings; the war is raging, the Nazis are exterminating the Jews, and Leon happens to be German. Rosa also hopes that one day she will be able to reunite with her missing husband.
I have a pretty good idea why Angry Harvest did not win the sympathy of the Academy back in 1985. Too much humanism, too much sensuality, too much beauty, as strange as it may sound, is what Agnieszka Holland's film reveals. If I had to guess I think that what the members of the Academy did not see in this German production was a powerful Holocaust film.
What Angry Harvest shows is something rather different – a forgotten world nestled deep into the forests of Silesia where ordinary people find love in a time of war. In fact, it may sound bizarre but in Angry Harvest war is the last thing that troubles the minds of Rosa and Leon. Hope I suppose is the key word here: Leon hoping that Rosa will respond to his feelings, Rosa hoping that her husband will eventually reappear.
But isn't it war that has brought Rosa and Leon together? Isn't it war that has separated Rosa and her husband? And how could war be a secondary theme when the entire film uses war as a foundation for its story? The answers to the above questions I believe can be found in the lines Leon utters to Rosa after she finally agrees to spend the night with him. Watch carefully how the two console each other as there is plenty their actions reveal.
The moral erosion of the main protagonists is indeed what kept my interest in this film. Agnieszka Holland provides a few very unconventional twists to the story and for the most part I liked how flawed her characters were. They were selfish yet naïve, scared yet determined, willing yet suspicious. There is plenty of grey in this film that certainly reminded me how unpredictable human beings are.
Finally, Angry Harvest is a film that addresses the very nature of man, the inner instinct that forces us to make poor decisions. This isn't so much a film about redemption, even though both Rosa and Leon struggle and overcome adversity, as it is a film that attempts to examine what makes us human.
How Does the DVD Look?
I have been quite dissatisfied with IMAGE's recent treatment of non-American productions. Ever since they took over the defunct now HVE their DVD releases have been gravitating around the average to disappointing mark. Angry Harvest is not an exception!! A quick look here reveals what I was afraid would be the case: a quickly put together PAL port of a film that deserves a substantially better treatment. Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 (I have never seen this film before so I can't comment whether or not this is the original aspect ratio, yet as far as I am concerned the image appears framed properly) the print for Angry Harvest is rather noticeably worn out and occasionally suffers from what I must describe as lack of definition. The intended by the director look is most likely a gritty and edgy one yet what we have here is something quite different: shaky contrast, questionable grain, unconvincing color-scheme. On top of everything else "ghosting" is quite strong and even if you are still using a tube there is a very good chance that you would be distracted by it. To sum it all up I am very disappointed to say the least that IMAGE are now clearly erasing the good memories HVE left amongst film buffs. I suggest the company either drastically improves the quality of their presentations or simply drops the HVE logo from their covers.
How Does the DVD Sound?
Presented with its original DD German track and optional English subtitles the audio treatment is substantially better than the video presentation. Dialog is mostly clear and easy to follow and I could not detect any drop-outs or hissing(s). As far as I am concerned you shouldn't experience any discomfort while listening to the dialog/music.
Absolutely disappointing!! Notthing!!
While some may find it admirable that IMAGE have released this film in the US I find their treatment simply unacceptable. A poor transfer that indicates what I believe is now a trend (here we have yet another company favoring PAL-ports) and not a single bit of supplemental material quickly brings this release to the RENT IT mark. Which is very, very unfortunate as the film is to say the least thought-provoking!!