Uncovered: The War on Iraq should be superfluous. By now, everyone ought to have noticed that the Bush administration’s principal justifications for invading Iraq have evaporated: The “weapons of mass destruction” didn’t exist, an imminent threat to the United States or its allies was sheer fantasy, the strategic connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda was just propaganda, and the Iraqis who were still under Hussein’s effective control were not waiting to be “liberated” by American and British troops.
Originally an hourlong, straight-to-DVD commentary with a slightly different subtitle, director Robert Greenwald’s Uncovered was expanded to an 83-minute theatrical release because, incredibly, it’s not superfluous. Dubya’s “coalition” does not yet fully rule Iraq, but it has maintained remarkable influence over the mainstream american press, which remains embedded in the administration’s rationalizations. Despite some reluctant backpedaling—including the Washington Post’s recent suggestion that the United States had to invade Iraq because Walter Pincus is hard to edit—the journalistic cheerleaders for the war have yet to concede how wrong they and the Bush administration were. In fact, many network news programs and major newspapers have taken to tsk-tsking the recent spate of anti-Bush films without even hinting at a possible reason for their remarkably big box office: that these cinematic polemics have rushed into a credibility gap that the American news media itself created.
Less flashy than Fahrenheit 9/11—or even Greenwald’s own Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism—Uncovered simply arrays the statements of Bush and his circle against the analysis of expert commentators on spying, politics, and corruption. This is not a showcase for people with longstanding animosity toward Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell, Rice, and the rest—included are such former Bush II administration employees as terrorism expert Rand Beers, arms inspector Scott Ritter, and foreign-service veteran John Brady Kiesling, as well as such now-famous defectors as Joseph C. Wilson and David Kay. (Richard Clarke also appears, although only in snippets from TV appearances, not in an original interview.) It doesn’t seem that any of these people had much to gain by breaking with the administration, and—even if the credibility of some of them is discounted—the cumulative impact of their testimony is powerful. Especially because they have the advantage of having the available facts on their side.
Uncovered doesn’t actually uncover anything, except perfidy that’s a matter of public record. It merely contrasts the Bushlings’ statements with subsequent revelations and the officials’ own attempts to respin their justifications to suit new and inconvenient information. Montaged clips show how administration “talking points” were repeated as insistently as the refrain of a Beyoncé tune, and onscreen text illustrates the process of “data mining”: taking intelligence reports and purging their ambiguities and qualifications until all that’s left is clear, direct, and essentially wrong.
If Greenwald finds nothing new, he does note a few things that the mainstream press largely chose to ignore before the March 2003 invasion: that Iraqi sarin gas made in 1991 had a “shelf life of two months,” that the aluminum tubes linked to nuclear-arms production could not have been used for that purpose, and that CIA Director George Tenet had discounted reports of Iraqi attempts to buy weapons-grade uranium for five months before Bush repeated the phony charges in his State of the Union speech.
Three segments should be of particular interest to the pundits who swallowed whole the administration’s war hype: Scott Ritter and former CIA analyst Ray McGovern’s discussion of Colin Powell’s speech to the United Nations, which included claims McGovern calls “highly embarrassing”; the experts’ evaluation of the U.N. inspections, which another CIA vet, Patrick Eddington, says in fact “worked”; and Kay’s chagrined account of how he came to realize that “we were all wrong” about the existence of WMDs in Iraq. Before the invasion, of course, the op-ed axis of gullibility swooned over Powell’s speech and dismissed the weapons inspectors as incompetent or worse. And by the time Kay resigned, the op-edders had long since shifted to claiming that the war was designed primarily to bring democracy to Iraq, and that the United States was searching not for WMDs but for evidence of “programs” to make them. (Hussein and his cronies, in other words, were guilty of thinking bad thoughts—an actionable offense only among nations with strategic locations and large reservoirs of oil.)
The film suffers from variable and sometimes weak sound quality, something that should have been fixed in postproduction. It also, like Fahrenheit 9/11, lacks a final chapter: the revelation of the administration’s actual motivation for its “pre-emptive” strike on Iraq, which seems to have pre-empted only the inevitable collapse of Hussein’s government. But to reproach Greenwald’s movie for not being definitive would be to judge it by the standards of historical documentaries, which is not what it is. Uncovered is an example of the Digital Age newsreel, an impromptu new form that has arisen to supplement the reporting and commentary of an establishment media that is, at the very least, dumbfoundingly credulous.
Although most of it is set in Berlin, Rosenstrasse is sort of Margarethe von Trotta’s first American movie—which is not necessarily a good thing. The director of such severe, utterly German fare as Marianne & Juliane and Sisters, or the Balance of Happiness begins her latest personal-is-political drama in Manhattan. Scene changes and flashbacks soon shift the focus to Germany, but the movie carries a measure of Hollywood glibness and sentimentality with it on the way.
The story, scripted by von Trotta with Pamela Katz, begins with a grieving family. The husband of Ruth (Jutta Lampe) and father of Hannah (Maria Schrader) has just died, and, in her shock, Ruth begins following Orthodox Jewish customs she previously ignored. Quick flashbacks show us what the new widow never told her children: When she was 8, Ruth (Svea Lohde) was permanently separated from her mother, who was sent to a Nazi concentration camp and never returned. A cousin, however, takes Hannah aside and reveals something of Ruth’s background. Soon, Hannah is on a plane to Berlin, a trip that comes as a relief. Rosenstrasse’s New York–based framing sequence, inhabited primarily by German actresses who converse mostly in their native language, seems slightly off-key—although no more so than American-made Holocaust films in which everyone speaks English.
Posing as a historical researcher, Hannah locates elderly Lena (Doris Schade) and begins a series of interviews with her. As a young woman, Lena (Katja Riemann) was a successful pianist who married dashing German-Jewish violinist Fabian (Martin Feifel) over the objections of her aristocratic father. As the husband of a gentile, Fabian was exempt from deportation, but in 1943, the rules changed. He was arrested, and Lena joined the women who protested on Rosenstrasse outside the makeshift prison where their husbands were held. There Lena met, and temporarily adopted, newly motherless Ruth.
Von Trotta establishes three individual visual styles for her three plot lines: crisp for the contemporary sequences, soft for the flashbacks, and partially bleached of color for the scenes that transpire on wintry Rosenstrasse itself. Yet it’s the last that seem most real. Largely faithful to actual events, the depiction of the Rosenstrasse protests is stark and stirring. It recounts the sort of peaceful, almost mundane action that would not be expected to sway German officials in 1943, but did. “Give us our husbands back!” is a rallying cry that barely begins to address the horrors of the Nazi regime, but it saved lives at a time when nothing else could deter the ongoing genocide.
That the film’s historical sections work best owes much to Riemann, who persuasively makes the transition from the customary decadent-Berlin sequences to the chilly, foreboding account of the protest. Having played a flamboyant Nazi-era Jewish lesbian in Aimée & Jaguar and a contemporary woman entwined in a Holocaust-rooted conspiracy in The Giraffe, Schrader is not on unfamiliar ground. Yet her character often seems merely petulant, far smaller than the events she seeks to understand.
The relationship between Lena and Hannah is typical of von Trotta’s approach: Although the two women develop a close attachment, they want different things from Lena’s life story, and they can never truly be reconciled. Whereas most of the director’s films achieve parity between individual lives and larger events, however, this one is foremost a historical tale. That reflects, in part, the enormity of the Holocaust, but also a psychological shallowness: In Rosenstrasse, machine guns are more ominous than the human heart, a formulation that’s both understandable and less provocative than the lacerating insights of von Trotta’s best work.CP