The Lost Honor of Katharina von Blum (1975)

Volker Schlöndorff, Margarethe von Trotta

Great film. The content, on a superficial level, is like A Clockwork Orange and to a much lesser extent Z. But the style and mood is very much informed by Peters Weir’s The Last Wave. In fact, one can easily draw parallels between the metamorphosis of both the naďve Richard Chamberlain character from The Last Wave and Katharina von Blum—what they have or have not done, in this life or another, and what they are capable of. The ending is hard truth in the style of Becker (Casque d’Or) and again, Clouzot.

But what makes this film even more interesting than all of that is the very nuanced psychological and dare I say (about a German product) humanistic running just underneath the surface. In fact, in the larger context of political and cultural oppression, these glimpses of humanity trying to break through make the fascism all the more tragic. This is quite unlike A Clockwork Orange (and for that matter Strangelove as well), where we pretty much don’t care about anybody in the society. Not that I know or it matters what Kubrick wanted us to feel. I’m just saying.

21:08 Goetten’s advances didn’t bother you?
21:12 Ludwig didn’t make advances. He was tender.
21:16 Same thing.
21:17 It is not.
21:22 Advances are a one-sided action.
21:26 Tenderness is quite different. It comes from both parties.
21:31 Who cares about that?
21:33 We want to know if you had an appointment.
21:39 I won’t sign if you leave “advances” instead of “tenderness.”
21:42 Alright. “Tenderness.”
21:44 Thank her if this takes forever.
21:46 We enjoy listening.
And this reminds one of the glimpse of humanity shown in the police station in Clouzot’s Quai des Orfčvres, when the cab driver attempts to protect the woman he barely knows, out of a sense of moral obligation (or anti-police solidarity—read Clouzot as you like). Other examples of humanity trying to peep through are the balding young police officer who sympathizes with Katharina (and Ludwig’s) plight as well as the young doctor who wants to sue the newspaper man for infringing on Katharina’s privacy, at least, until his crusade is suddenly halted by a thought of Marxism. In any case, this is a society worth saving. And that is what makes all the difference. As bad as things look at the end, there is hope, just as with Alphaville that change will come, possibly from deep within.

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