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81-year-old actress ages up in ‘Frau Stern’ at Ajijic Jewish Film Festival, February 18

“Frau Stern,” an award-winning indie film written and directed by Anatol Schuster, is a darkish comedy about a 90-year old Holocaust survivor who wants to die.

pg23aShuster wrote the film especially for 81-year-old Ahuva Sommerfeld in her first and only screen role. Shuster and the elder Sommerfeld knew each through Sommerfeld’s years of work as an assistant director. No question, Shuster has a keen eye for actors, as Sommerfeld is feisty and charming in her single role. Ironically, Sommerfeld died shortly after making the film.

Frau Stern has a good life in Berlin where she lived as a Holocaust survivor, making a life and family after the war. But now, as she tells everyone she knows, she’s ready to die at aged 90. All her friends and enemies are dead and she’s had enough. She’s also not liking what she sees in modern Germany. Her problem is that no one will help her achieve her end.

Her German doctor pronounces her to be in great shape. He won’t help her die because how would it look in his imagined headline: “German Doctor Kills Holocaust Survivor?” Her daughter, Ellis (played by Sommerfeld’s actual daughter, Nirit), won’t help her because she doesn’t understand why her mother, a bicycle riding, hard drinking, pot smoking, beloved family member, wants to leave her. Thus, Frau Stern is dependent on her own devices to perform the act. Her attempts aren’t working too well and they give rise to some humorous scenes as random passers-by manage to prevent her from success, but at the same time, these encounters seem to offer some reasons for Frau Stern to reconsider. Similarly, Frau Stern’s 20-something granddaughter, with her young friends, try to show Frau Stern that there can still be joy in life, convincing the 90-year-old to party with them and have new experiences.

The darker part of this film has to do with Frau Stern’s memory—one of the reasons she says she wants to die. She remembers everything, and of course, everything includes her horrific experiences during the war and the later loss of her beloved husband and all her friends.

Does she or doesn’t she? The answer won’t come as a surprise, nor is it intrinsic to the plot, strange though that might seem. At heart, this film, with its delightful lead actress, is a meaningful character study of an amusing and formidable a woman who wants agency to determine her fate, something history denied to her.

Directed by Anatol Shuster, Germany, 2019, Time: 1:19.

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