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Originally published Thursday, March 20, 2014 at 10:05 PM

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‘Two Lives’: A woman’s secret past threatens her happy home

A movie review of “Two Lives,” a drama about a happily married woman living in Norway who has a secret past that merges two of the darker chapters of 20th-century European history.

The New York Times

Movie Review

‘Two Lives,’ with Juliane Köhler, Liv Ullmann, Sven Nordin. Directed by Georg Maas, from a screenplay by Maas, Christoph Tolle, Stale Stein Berg and Judith Kaufmann, based on a novel by Hannelore Hippe. 97 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. In Norwegian and German, with English subtitles. Varsity.

The New York Times does not provide star ratings with reviews.

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The anxious, melancholic drama “Two Lives” is the story of a woman caught up in the toxic backwash of long-ago events that exert a fearful grip on the present. Unholy forces shaped the double life of this woman, Katrine (Juliane Köhler). Happily married and living in Norway, she has a secret past that merges two of the darker chapters of 20th-century European history.

Beginning in the mid-1930s, the Nazi Lebensborn program to breed an Aryan “master race” produced thousands of children. Because Norwegians were thought to be an especially hardy breed, they were considered ideal specimens. Once these women gave birth in occupied Norway, their children were often taken from them and reared in special orphanages in Germany.

Starting in the 1960s, the Stasi, the East German secret police, recruited many of the grown-up progeny as spies, sending them to Norway to be reunited with unsuspecting families. In some cases, the Stasi appropriated the identities of Lebensborn children and conferred them on East Germans trained in espionage.

“Two Lives” is set in 1990, just after the fall of Communism. And although it has the trappings of a spy movie, it is more a story of identity theft and its consequences. It unwraps the biography of this so-called Katrine, united with her supposed mother, Ase (Liv Ullmann), in Norway. Now Katrine is married to Bjarte (Sven Nordin), with whom she is passionately in love; they live with their daughter (Julia Bache-Wiig), her baby and Ase. In an early scene, we are tipped off that Katrine may be concealing her real identity.

“Two Lives” is an absorbing, well-acted, moderately suspenseful mystery, although its time line of events is fuzzy to the point of impenetrability. If she were played a different way, Katrine would be a monster. But the film portrays her as a victim of history who is increasingly desperate at the prospect of losing a family to which she feels she belongs.

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