Saturday, July 25, 2020

THE LOST HONOUR OF KATHARINA BLUM (Volker Schlöndorff & Margarethe von Trotta, 1975, Germany)

Katharina Blum’s one-night stand leads to a life-long fall. Katharina’s humble life is one of work and loneliness: known by her friends as “The Nun”, she is the forlorn mistress of a wealthy businessman, a fact which soon becomes tabloid fodder, food for the imbecilic masses that can digest only the most vapid of prose. Her chance affair with Ludwig revels in some deeper meaning, but he is unknowingly (to her) a wanted terrorist. She decides to remain introspective and distant, revealing only vague information to the police, which fuels the arrogant and unstoppable Yellow Press: like the Hurst newspapers of the past, if the war doesn’t exist…create it.

Director’s Volker Schlöndorff and Margarethe von Trotta adapt the Nobel Prize winning novel by Henrich Böll but fail to create any emotional or situational depth to the characters: the film remains as cold as a newsprint font. The narrative eschews exposition and gives us her haunting looks and chaotic reactions, not allowing the audience to experience Katharina as a complex human being, as she seems to exude some pretextual identity, a conspirator in crime. Her fugitive lover Ludwig remains a mystery, his mischief unexplained except that he is an anarchist and wanted by the police. But is he an assassin, a member of some murderous fringe group, or just a non-conformist whose political views clash with the status quo? This is important to define within context of the film (it’s explicit in the novel) because it’s difficult to empathize with a woman who deliberately hides a killer.

The film portrays the true culprit as the “free press” that slanders Katharina, innuendo and outright lie breaking her sanity more profoundly than any sticks or stones. Authority is also shown as accomplice, guiding the immoral journalist towards his front page story, his smooth talking persona and good looks a mask that hides the vile smirk of superiority. But Katharina finally breaks her silence and agrees to an interview with the leering journalist…and he finally makes his well-deserved deadline.

Final Grade: (B-)