Thursday, 26 October 2017

Rosa Luxemburg (1986 film)

The movie Rosa Luxemburg, released in 1986, and directed by Margarethe von Trotta, is a biopic (of sorts) of the German-Polish revolutionary and activist. Barbara Sukowa plays the title role.

I say a biopic of sorts, because the movie does not cover the whole of her life, although there are a few flashback sequences, referring back to her childhood.

For much of this picture, there is a dark atmosphere of foreboding and oppression, often with a backdrop of snow and overcast skies. I personally found this to be galvanizing rather than discouraging. Some of the most powerful and effective imagery is of Rosa trudging around prison yards in the snow, accompanied by her poetic reflections and commentary.

In addition to the above, a good deal of the running time consists of Luxemburg arguing (often at the dinner table) with her "comrades" regarding strategy, tactics and theory. If some of the settings here are an accurate reflection, then it seems that Luxemburg and her friends and associates lived in a good deal of comfort and luxury, when they were not locked up in prison, that is.

I like this film, partly because it deals with European history and politics, and partly because it is imbued with the notions of learning, ideas and books. The period sets, costumes, decor and so forth, are impressively, if soberly and unobtrusively, done. The scene which depicted a "turn of the century" ball was nicely effected and presented - this is an area where many similar pictures fall down.

The theme for much of the movie, as I interpreted it, was that the subject was principled but headstrong, and often despaired of her older, more pragmatic and conservative colleagues, and their more measured approach. There is almost as much focus on her emotional and romantic entanglements as on the political arena, partly because such areas may illustrate some of the personality traits which helped to determine her destiny and her fate.

I was intrigued by her advocacy of mass action, rather then relying totally on the drudgery of party politics and parliamentary procedure and compromise. She kept receiving promises from her party leaders, but one suspects that they were empty promises, designed to placate her temporarily, though there is merit in the argument that a hasty or ill-prepared "revolution" might be self-defeating.

She was wrong, initially at least, to claim that there would be no mass support for the war which commenced in 1914, but was ultimately proved correct in many of her observations about the effects which the war would have. I thought that the film dealt with this stage of Luxemburg's life quite honestly and deftly, illustrating her despair,resignation and disillusionment at the nationalist fervour which helped to propel Europe towards war, and eloquently summing up her views on how developments in the conflict could slowly turn the tide of opinion.

The chronology might confuse a few people in places, but the main thing is the overall effect. This is not a blandly hagiographic account, but at the same time it does have the effect of making one think beyond the smokescreens and bland over-simplifications which tend to dominate (in my experience) mainstream 21st century discourse and comment.

Barbara Sukowa's performance is admirable. Many movies of this type are marred by cartoonish or over-inflated portrayals of the main players, but here Sukowa delivers a reasonably plausible and convincing picture.

A good movie, not excessively preachy or partisan.  It is visually pleasing, soundly acted and adroitly presented.

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