Sunday, 16 October 2016

The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum - (1975 film)

A little while ago, I wrote an article about Heinrich Boll's novel, The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum. I have seen the 1975 film adaptation a few times, and thought it was time that I committed my thoughts on it to blog form.  My review of the novel is here:- The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum.

The direction and screenplay for the movie were handled by Volker Schlondorff and Margarethe von Trotta. The plot concerns a German woman who spends the night with a man who later turns out to be a suspected bank robber and political militant. She finds herself persecuted by the police, media and public.

One of the things about the picture which I find appealing is its visual flavour, which evokes the modernistic West Germany in the throes of its economic miracle. Expensive cars, stylish clothes and fashionable furnishings abound throughout, forming a kind of clinical vibrancy.  The story says, however, that dark and unsavoury tendencies lurk beneath the veneer of prosperity and progress.

Themes of press intrusion and freedom, as well as hysteria and anxiety about terrorism, are the main concerns. Of course, this film was made at a turbulent time in the Federal Republic's history, as the country wrestled with political violence.

I can't really make my mind up about Angela Winkler's performance in the role of Katharina, whether it is bland, or whether it sensitively and subtly conveys the confusion and innocence of the character as she attempts to cope with the maelstrom which has suddenly enveloped her.

For me, the film is exaggerated, even mildly cartoonish, and the dystopian overtones come over more acutely than they do in book form. The police raid on Katharina's apartment exemplifies this. In some ways, I think that the social commentary has more merit than the movie as a whole, troublesome though it is to separate the two.

If there is a lack of restraint in how some of the film's topical concerns are addressed, they are topics which are still immensely relevant four decades later. Press hysteria, collusion between state and media, self-interest masquerading as concern for order and security, and the appeal to the base sentiments and instincts of the populace, all form part of the mix.

Although this film has some of the attributes and tension which make the cinema of the 70s so absorbing, it has never really grabbed me as perhaps it should. In saying that the points could have been made with more delicacy or finesse, it is true that the air of unreality and dislocation is integral to what it is being asserted.

The denouement, whilst no doubt very "poetic" in its way, and highly dramatic, is rather silly. I sometimes think that if the journalist had met his end in some other, accidental, way, the point would have been made almost equally as well, unless the novelist and writers were insinuating that the methods of state, press and public drive people to desperate and irrational measures?

A movie worth watching, but not as satisfying or convincing as later films made, separately, by the two directors/screenwriters involved here, on similar subject matter.

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