Reviews and notes
A disturbingly powerful version of Heinrich Boll's novel about the irresponsibility of the gutter press and their ability to destroy lives. Winkler is excellent as the shy, apolitical young woman who sleeps with a man she meets at a party, unaware that he's a terrorist; next morning, after he's gone, armed police burst in, arrest her, and the nightmare begins. A smear campaign is started against her character, her privacy is repeatedly violated, and the links between single-minded, right-wing police and news-hungry press are made clear. It's a frightening account of how external, arbitrary forces can ruin lives, which simultaneously portrays the heroine as a courageous, dignified upholder of her freedom. Sometimes surreal, always intelligent and menacing, it's far superior to Schlondorff's later The Tin Drum
- Geoff Andrew, Time Out Film Guide.
The twenty-year marriage between Volker Schlondorff and Margarethe von Trotta bore artistic fruit in the world of West German cinema... Two of their more noteworthy collaborations from the mid-1970s are, THE LOST HONOR OF KATHARINA BLUM
, based on a novel by Nobel Prize-winning author Heinrich Boll, and Coup de Grace
, based on Marguerite Yourcenar's novel. Each film deals uniquely with forms of terrorism - the terrorism of warfare, terrorism inflicted by the state and press, emotional terrorism in the war between the sexes. Each film powerfully demonstrates the repercussions of the escalation of fear in concordance with a loss of compassion as individuals and as a society.
THE LOST HONOR OF KATHARINA BLUM
(1975) is one of those rare movies that has become more relevant with the passage of time. Set in West Germany during the early 1970s, the film deals with the potential political consequences of a one-night stand in a society where everyone is under observation. Katharina Blum (Angela Winkler), an average citizen who works as a housekeeper for a wealthy lawyer, attends a party where she becomes enchanted with a mysterious man, Ludwig Goetten (Jurgen Prochnow). At the end of the evening, she takes him back to her apartment.
The next morning, a squadron of police dressed in riot gear raids her apartment, searching for Goetten, a suspected terrorist. Blum is taken to police headquarters for a grueling interrogation session led by Kommissar Beizmenne (Mario Adorf). These scenes pack an unsettling power. An average, politically unaware citizen is subjected to an intense scrutiny over her possible motivations for sleeping with a terrorist. Her purely instinctual act - and to Blum's way of thinking, a pure and honest response to a romantic scenario - becomes perverted and denigrated. In the mindset of the police, where any citizen is a potential terrorist or collaborator with terrorists, there is no room for romance or "love at first sight" encounters like those found in fairy tales. There are no chance encounters or motive free decisions. Furthermore, in the eyes of society "good women don't invite strange men into their beds. Therefore, Blum has either known Goetten longer than she has let on, or she is a whore and sleeps with many men." There are no other alternatives, no shades of gray.
Katharina Blum's ultimate crime turns out to be that she doesn't play their game - she doesn't submit meekly to their authority and doesn't allow them to set the parameters of her life as a single woman. When the interrogation group takes a break, she refuses to converse with them. In Blum's eyes, they have not only upset the order of her life, they have violated her. In the eyes of the police, they are "just doing their job, not making a personal attack." Ironically it is Beizmenne who takes her rebuff personally. When Blum refuses to converse with him over lunch, he orders her to be taken to a prison cell. He also sets out to destroy her credibility.
Beizmenne leaks "information" to a journalist, Werner Toetges (Dieter Laser), that he suspects Blum has been collaborating with Goetten for two years. Upon her release from the interrogation, Blum sees headlines in the paper proclaiming her as a terrorist collaborator. From here on, the press dogs her every step, interrogating employers and friends about her past. Even Blum's mother, hospitalized in an intensive care ward, is not off-limits from the press. Toetges, posing as a doctor, sneaks into the ward to ask her a few questions about her immoral daughter. His careless and callous disregard ultimately causes the mother's death.
When they don't get the answers they want, the press makes up the facts, creating a notorious public persona for Katharina Blum devoid of any connection to the real person. This very real campaign of terror breaks Blum down emotionally. It robs her of a private life and ultimately forces her down the only avenue she feels she has left to re-establish control in her life - an act of murder. The government and media have warped her into a monster, no trace of which existed before. She is a creature of their making.
Based on an incident in the life of Heinrich Boll, who was accused by the press of being a terrorist sympathizer, THE LOST HONOR OF KATHARINA BLUM
is a chilling depiction of unchecked power and a thought-provoking analysis of the responsibilities of the police and the press to the private lives of citizens. For co-directors and co-writers Schlondorff and von Trotta, this sordid collaboration between the police and the media to publicly humiliate and destroy an individual poses more of a threat to democracy than any terrorist. The film espouses the idea that both the press and the police should be accountable for their actions, and that the unchecked power of these institutions cause greater violence to society and the individual in the long run than any terrorist threat. Because of the film's frightening parallels to the current political situation in the United States, THE LOST HONOR OF KATHARINA BLUM
would do well to be required viewing for every citizen.
- Joe Pettit, Jr., Images
Weblink: Review by Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times, October 19, 1976
Back to screening list