“To my liberation from the class enemy!”
Rita Vogt (Bibiana Beglau) is one member of a West German urban guerilla group (obviously meant to be the RAF) who springs comrade, Andrea (Harald Schrott) from jail. Several people are shot during the jailbreak, and the group goes on the lam to Paris. While in Paris, Rita kills a policeman, and the guerillas are once again on the run–this time they slip into East Germany with the help of Stasi officer Erwin Hull (Martin Wuttke) who befriended Rita when she was recognized upon entering East Berlin before. Since the heat is on the group, Erwin makes an offer–the fugitives can accept a new life–with new identities in East Germany, or they can be flown out to Beirut. While everyone else elects Beirut, Rita decides to stay in East Germany.
Rita assumes a new identity in East Germany, and her adjustment to her environment is at the heart of The Legend of Rita from director Volker Schlondorff. The plot places Rita in some interesting situations. Her first job, for example, is in a factory where she befriends Tatjana (Nadja Uhl). Tatjana loathes East Germany, and would love to live in the West. She can’t understand why Rita (now living under an assumed name) would give up Western freedoms and chose to live under Communist rule. In the meantime, Rita’s former rebelliousness against the state has simply disappeared, and she’s become a drone–speaking the party line and accepting whatever she’s told to do. When Rita’s new identity is threatened, she has little choice but to move on–leaving Tatjana and their budding lesbian affair.
The film fails to fulfill its promise, however, on several layers. Rita becomes a pawn for the Stasi–every move she makes is watched, and every conversation she has is taped. The film could have chosen to tackle some fascinating complex arguments–Rita’s ideology, for example, and the challenge she faces in either rejecting her beliefs or sticking to them in the face of such nauseating, dreary and threatening Orwellian bureaucracy. The plot shows Rita as mindlessly accepting what she is told to do–she doesn’t question her freedoms, and by making Rita a drone, she is a far less interesting character. Instead, the film concentrates on Rita’s two love interests. If you are expecting to discover something about the Red Army Faction here, keep looking. This is not really a film about the RAF.
Director Volker Schlondorff received a great deal of criticism from all sides for this film. At a press showing of the film, some booed and some applauded. There were those who thought his portrayal of the RAF was too ‘soft’ and others who thought he was too harsh. But the fact of the matter remains that Stasi files made public after the collapse of East Germany revealed that some members of the RAF were indeed given sanctuary by the GDR. In German with English subtitles.