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Katharina Blum is a young handsome German maid. She meets Ludwig, and they fall in love at once. They spend the night together. In the morning, the police bursts in her flat, looking for Ludwig : he is a terrorist. But he was no longer here. Katharina is arrested, humiliated, suspected to be a terrorist herself, dragged in the mud by the newspapers... A plea for democracy and individual rights. Written by
The crew is visible in the reflection of the glass of a telephone booth See more »
The legal disclaimer reads as follows: 'Personen und Handlung sind frei erfunden. Sollten sich bei der Schilderung gewisser journalistischer Praktiken Aehnlichkeiten mit den Praktiken der BILD-Zeitung ergeben haben, so sind diese Aehnlichkeiten weder beabsichtigt noch zufaellig, sondern unvermeidlich.' (Characters and plot are purely fictitious. Similarities with journalistic practices of the newspaper "BILD" are neither intended nor coincidental, but inevitable.) This is a direct quote from the introduction to the original novel by Heinrich Böll. See more »
Doesn't quite achieve what it wants to achieve, but has some interesting aspects
In the early 1970s, West Germany was having quite a problem with what was known as the Baader-Meinhof terrorist gang. Author Heinrich Böll wrote an article criticizing what he saw as the German tabloid Bild-Zeitung's fear-mongering tactics in their reporting of the activities of the Baader-Meinhof gang. Subsequently, Böll was called a terrorist sympathizer, and the police began checking him out as if he were a criminal. This provoked Böll into writing a novel, also called The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, which was to serve as a parable for the consequences of "yellow journalism" and fascist-leaning police actions. The subtitle of the book was the over-ambitious "How violence can arise and what it can lead to".
Filmmakers Volker Schlöndorff and Margarethe von Trotta knew and empathized with Böll so they began to put the film into production immediately. I haven't read the novel, so I can't compare the two, but unfortunately the film, at least based on the English language translation, comes nowhere near its goals in terms of political or social commentary.
Here's how the story begins per what we actually see on the screen: a man--he turns out to be Ludwig Götten (Jürgen Prochnow)--who is behaving mysteriously/covertly finds his way to a party. At the party, he hooks up with a swinging trio consisting of an apparent Arab and two women. They then head to another party, where Götten runs into Katharina Blum (Angela Winkler). They stare at each other oddly and dance slowly. The Arab heads off to the bathroom, reports to whoever is listening on the other side of his wire that Götten and Blum are together, and we see Götten and Blum subjected to surveillance as they leave together to go to her apartment. In the morning (I'm not sure why they'd wait until morning), police, including armed men in something like riot gear, storm into Blum's apartment, planning on absconding Götten. But Götten is gone. So they take Blum in for questioning. It seems that Götten is a suspected terrorist and they want to know what Blum's relationship is to him. Blum ends up briefly imprisoned.
At the same time, a local tabloid paper, simply called "The Paper" in the English-language subtitles, at least, begins printing trumped up stories about Blum, occasionally even completely fabricating quotes from interviewees. As in the novel, the gist of the film is supposed to be that the treatment from the police and the newspaper are "ruining Blum's life".
It's certainly true that the police and the journalists shown in the film get a bit out of line. However, their transgressions are relatively minor, especially compared to other filmic depictions of such things. Blum is never strong-armed by the police, for example. Compared to the real world, there are no molestations with broomstick handles here. The journalists do not do anything unusual for tabloid journalists. I can't remember when it started publishing, but The Weekly World News sure fabricates stories a lot stronger than "The Paper" in Katharina Blum does, and it's not as if The National Enquirer, say, hasn't been successfully sued for slander/libel. On the other hand, The National Enquirer hasn't exactly ruined lives, either. That would be quite an exaggeration.
It's not clear why Blum answers the police's line of questioning without objecting more vehemently or alternately refraining from talking and incriminating herself. I'm not sure what Germany's laws are, or were, on that. No one tells us that Blum has to respond to the police in the way that she does, and she certainly doesn't try very hard to do otherwise.
If we look at things from the police's perspective for a moment, Götten is supposedly a terrorist. While we're not shown anything confirming this, we're not shown anything denying it, either. We don't know what kind of evidence the police have on Götten. And here is a woman who is apparently helping him out. So, obviously, they're going to question her, and police will ask you all kinds of questions that you don't have to answer. As shown in the film, it is suggested that Blum is actually lying about the extent of her interactions with Götten. If she just met him, many plot points make little sense. Further, Schlöndorff and von Trotta suggest in subtle ways that Blum's circle of acquaintances might not just be ideological leftists. Given all of this, the police aren't really shown doing anything out of line except asking questions that Blum wouldn't have had to answer.
The Paper gets more out of line, but we're actually only shown a couple incidents where they change words in someone's statement. The idea is that Blum is being tried and convicted in the tabloid. Yet, "tried and convicted in the press" is hyperbole, certainly. Blum remained free. She wasn't proved guilty of anything. The emotional turmoil she experiences (which leads to a much improved climax) seems more a result of her own odd disposition (and the character is quite odd and somewhat volatile in the film) than blamable on stories in the newspaper. The only person who ruins Blum's life is Blum.
If you haven't seen the film yet, it might seem odd that I'm hanging on narrow points so much. You're probably saying, "But what about the plot? Isn't this a good, suspenseful film?" The bulk of the film consists of the police questioning Blum and reporters trying to interview her family, friends and associates (although that takes up a lot less time than the police questioning Blum). This is nothing if not a "talking head" film. It succeeds or not largely based on that talking. There are stretches where the talking is engaging, even if it's not making the point that Schlöndorff and von Trotta want to make. It's a good idea, and could have worked with a better script. But there's not much else to praise, including the technical elements, which are just average.
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