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The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum (1975)

max from fearless · 4 · 1370

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max from fearless

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on: August 21, 2014, 08:00:18 PM

Saw this by chance. Re-watched "The Marriage of Maria Braun" after reading this incredible interview with Rainer Werner Fassbinder, which you can read here (covers everything from fighting for utopias, how he likes to spend his sundays, the German New Wave and his sex life, and it's just a really great interview from a really great and prolific and sometimes sloppy as hell director)


Anyways I had remembered renting the BDR Criterion trilogy DVDs from a video shop in East London and remembered it came with some cool essays by Amy Taubin I think, so I was like let me go to the Criterion website and read up on Braun (which for my money is an incredible synthesis of a fearless performance from Hanna Schygulla, some incredible painting with the camera from Michael Ballhaus (camera moves and colours all great) and a subversion of the melodrama with some great and grounded comedic moments to balance the heavy stuff) Anyways to make a long story long on the Criterion website sidebar is the title: "The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum."

Anyways, something tells me to get the movie, so I get it and it's great.

I haven't read the book and I knew nothing about it or it's author prior to watching the movie. On the surface it's a murky political suspense thriller, about the press/police going on a wild, absurd and sometimes darkly banal (and sadly comic) witch-hunt which destroys a woman's life. The filmmaking is unsettling (some of it hasn't aged well) with this abstract and banal sense of place (really horrible exteriors, grey tower blocks, 80s prisons and drab offices) and a strange unsettling musical score, almost fit for a horror movie.

But beneath all this is a story of a vulnerable, somewhat shy woman, already isolated and protective of herself after a bad marriage, who gets everything taken away from her by her society/state. Her freedom is trashed. Her values are attacked. Her past distorted by the press. Her link to her family is destroyed. Her home wrecked. And she is used as a pawn by most of the people around her. This is a modern day witch hunt, which speaks to our times. If made now, it'd be a "drama" with a big showy performance at it's centre, whereas this is cool filmmaking. We're not even sure of Katharina and her motives and what she's doing until later in the picture.

It reminded me of "The Silence of the Lambs" with regards to the way Clarice is always trying to hold her own or maintain her self-hood (is that a word?) as a woman in a male dominated society and hang onto the things that make her, her - primarily those memories of her father which empower her and keep her going. Katharina is trying to do the same, and is empowered by love (via the chance encounter on which the plot hangs) and as the film develops and everything is gradually taken away from her via the media/police, she reacts and takes her resistance to it's logical conclusion.

I loved the camera work. A bit sloppy at times but the murk and the dank were needed and contribute to the paranoid, sickening, putrid atmosphere. The framing is also interesting and I'll be studying it again on my next viewing but obviously they play with isolating her in the frame etc. There is an incredible moment which breaks the realist conventions of the piece which had me going crazy and for me, personally, took the piece to the next level.

The last couple of scenes with Katharina are incredible (using that word too much, but it's true) Angela Winkler plays her as naive and defensive but slowly reveals the steel and love flowing through her veins. I loved this woman's face. I've smiled at her on the train and in the supermarket. She looks recognisable, but beneath the reserved demeanour is fire and courage and the heart to go all the way. The last scene is so incredible that the movie restored my faith in strong endings in cinema. If you leave this film untouched and not feeling a thing, you're probably dead. This is taught and brutal, with a deep undercurrent of resistance running throughout it and a humanist heart at it's core. Essential cinema.

Incidentally watched this as the first part of a double bill, this first and then "Park Row" by Samuel Fuller, which is a rip roaring, celebration and dedication of the free press. With big characters, big ideals and a battle of the sexes also rising to the surface. A totally different beast of a film, and so full of love for America and idealism and a great counterpoint to "Blum".

Here's a great interview to watch, after you've seen the film. It's from the Criterion with the co-directors, both European heavyweights, Volker Schlondorff and Margarethe von Trotta.

I also think this movie has some great movie posters:


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Reply #1 on: August 21, 2014, 08:32:44 PM
I haven't seen this, but now I definitely want to. Von Trotta's Marianne and Juliane is one of my favorites. Sadly, almost impossible to find a good-quality version of.


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Reply #2 on: August 21, 2014, 09:05:08 PM
Von Trotta's Marianne and Juliane is one of my favorites. Sadly, almost impossible to find a good-quality version of.

Remembered you mentioning that eons ago, so when I saw it was playing in a little theater near me this past year I made sure to go see it. Von Trotta and one of the lead actresses spoke afterwards, but my memory is hazy on the specifics of what they said. It was a lot of circumventing the moderator's "essay questions" in an effort to speak more candidly. The film was interesting but definitely not my usual fare...more intellectual, more directly political. Can't remember what you said about it polka, apart from the high recommendation.

Edit - found it in the thread The best movie(s) I'd never heard about

Margarethe Von Trotta's Marianne and Juliane -- it's one of the best movies I ever saw, and I never hear it mentioned.



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Reply #3 on: August 22, 2014, 03:18:08 AM
It's been so long since I've seen it, I can really only describe it in vague memories of the impression it left on me. But I remember being struck by the honesty of the lead performances, and by the way it took a story and setting that could have just been a dry history lesson and made it profoundly personal. Cinematically, it's not much; as I recall it doesn't have any real visual fingerprint to speak of. Everything rests on the relationship between these two sisters, and it never once struck a false emotional chord for me.

At this point, I'm almost afraid to see it again, because I have no idea if it will live up to that initial impression I got from it. Some movies happen to catch me at just the right emotional state, and this may have been one of them. But until Criterion or whoever gets off their ass and releases a halfway decent version of it on disc, that particular Schrödinger's Box will stay closed.