BERLIN: Germany’s first fictional film about the Allied bombing of Dresden was screened on Monday on the 61st anniversary of the firestorm, in a fresh sign the country is finally confronting its own wartime suffering.

“Dresden — The Inferno” tells the story of how the architectural jewel in eastern Germany known as Florence on the Elbe was reduced to rubble within hours in the British and US bombing of February 13-14, 1945.

At least 35,000 people perished, including hundreds of refugees who had fled the horrors of the Eastern front.

The producers, who are screening the picture to potential international buyers this week at the Berlin Film Festival, noted it had taken more than six decades to make a drama focused on the horror German civilians faced during such bombing campaigns — a lasting taboo in the country.

“The film shows from the start that the Nazis were the ones who were guilty of starting the war,” Guenther van Endert, an editor with public broadcaster ZDF, which will broadcast the film as a two-part miniseries in March, told a news conference after a small press screening.

“That does not mean we have to shy away from the fact that civilians suffered horribly.”

The picture tells the moving love story of Anna, a German nurse treating wounded soldiers from the front (Felicitas Woll), and Robert, a British pilot (John Light), whose plane is shot down near Dresden just days before the bombardment.

Robert survives by hiding in the hospital where Anna works. Although Anna is engaged to a young doctor, she is drawn to the silent Briton and helps him evade the Gestapo.

The bombing begins just as Anna attempts to flee the city with her family and the ensuing horror creates apocalyptic scenes for the camera.

A woman drags a flaming baby carriage, men on crutches struggle to dodge falling rubble from burning buildings and old women beg a soldier to shoot them rather than die of carbon monoxide poisoning in an air raid shelter.

And the Church of Our Lady, which was painstakingly reconstructed and reopened only last October, crumbles in a heap after the heat of the nearby bombing melts its mortar.

Although the plight of German civilians during World War II has been the subject of a few bestselling books in recent years, “Dresden — The Inferno” breaks new ground.

“These are scenes never shown before in a German film,” the screenwriter, Stefan Kolditz, told reporters. “They are bound to be shocking for audiences.”

“This wasn’t voyeuristic. We felt we owed it to the victims to show how they suffered,” added Van Endert.

But even after the wrenching scenes of dead bodies strewn in the streets and incomprehensible devastation, the film makes a point of showing Nazis forcing concentration camp prisoners to clean up rubble and shooting looters.

The film also contradicts a common notion in Germany “that England wanted to kill as many people as possible,” as Van Endert put it, and that Dresden had no strategic importance in a war that was almost over.

Working with British and German historians, the filmmakers documented the fact that Dresden was a key supply hub for the Germans on the Eastern front, had a major Gestapo headquarters and a poison gas factory.

International distribution for the film — with a 10-million-euro (12-million-dollar) budget, billed as the most expensive German television film ever made — is being managed by Beta Cinema, which also put out the Oscar-nominated Hitler picture “Downfall”.

The company said the film had already been sold to the Polish and Italian markets and that it expected strong interest throughout Europe.

Van Endert said that the meticulous effort to strike a balance in the film had nothing to do with political correctness.

“We wanted to show there were two sides of the story. That wasn’t sales strategy, that was simply important to us,” he said.—AFP

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