The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum Review

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Unaware that Ludwig is an army deserter falsely suspected of terrorism, apolitical maid Katharina Blum wakes from a one-night stand to find herself in the middle of a police raid that will lead to her being villified as a fellow traveller by Police Komissar Beizmenne and journalist Werner Toetges.


Following the emergence of the Red Army Faction in West Germany in the early 1970s, the right-wing tabloid press, led by Axel Springer at Bild-Zeitung, began a smear campaign designed to whip up the same red-baiting hysteria that had paralysed America during the McCarthy witch-hunts. The police responded by tapping phones, infiltrating protest groups and arresting suspects in raids that were often prompted by perfidious testimony.

Having been accused of harbouring fugitives, Heinrich Böll wrote the Nobel Prize-winning novel on which this film was based as a warning to the complacent German people that the authorities were resorting to fascist tactics to suppress essential liberties. Collaborating with Volker Schlöndorff and Margarethe von Trotta, Böll simplified the text's flashbacking structure to concentrate on the concept conveyed in its subtitle, `How Violence Develops and Where It Can Lead'.  

Thus, the married directors adopted a sinister visual style that relied heavily on the idea of surveillance, with Ludwig first being seen through the lense of a police camera and their sense of omnipresence reinforced by the frequent switches between colour and monochrome footage. Much of the action was also filmed through glass or similar barriers, which isolated the protagonists in general and Katharina in particular, as her space was continuously invaded by both the press and the police (and, thus, by implication, the public following her story in the papers and on the screen).  

However, the characterisation was highly formulaic and Schlöndorff and Von Trotta left us little room for intellectual manoeuvre. Consequently, the international press were somewhat dismissive of the film's political and dramatic naivete and its primary value now is as a snapshot of the national psyche at the height of the Baader-Meinhof crisis.  

 Yet, it was an esteemed popular success within the Federal Republic and it afforded New German Cinema its first commercial success. The pressures of its production took its toll on the co-directors' marriage, however, and Von Trotta struck out to build an uncompromising solo career.

A snapshot of a specific era in German history, this is interesting if not too personally affecting.