The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum (1975)

 “Typically bourgeois novels.”

An introverted young German girl named Katharina Blum (Angela Winkler) meets a man at a party. Unaware that he’s under police surveillance, she takes him home for the night. When the police raid her flat the next day, expecting to find Ludwig (Jurgen Prochnow), they discover that he’s slipped away. Since Katharina is now their only lead, they begin to pressure her about Ludwig’s whereabouts.

katharinaThe Lost Honor of Katharina Blum examines exactly what happens to a young woman whose privacy is ripped away by an unscrupulous journalist Werner Totges (Dieter Laser) who’s in cahoots with the police. Following leads given by the police, Totges invades every aspect of Katharina’s life–harassing her dying mother, interviewing a disgruntled ex-husband, and basically feeding her private information to anyone who cares to buy a paper. Katharina–who was nick-named ‘the Nun’, becomes the target of threatening and suggestive phone calls. Even the titles of her books come under scrutiny.

The film tracks how one young girl whose life squarely fits the norm, inadvertently transgresses. Once she is no longer the norm, and she’s seen to be acquainted, connected or possibly sympathetic to a terrorist, she’s vulnerable to the various power levels placed in society–neighbours, former friends, newspaper readers–all become the jurors of her morality–until she as effectively isolated from society as Ludwig. The film raises some interesting questions about journalistic ethics, but in these days of tabloid sensationalism, the film’s shock effect is numbed. Instead, the outrage remains the tainting of the reputations of Katharina’s relatives and employers–nice people who just try to stand by her. In spite of the fact that the film is a bit dated, it’s still relevant today–especially in light of the recent allegations of illegal wiretaps and surveillance currently being conducted by the Bush administration. The film is based on the novel by Heinrich Boll–a journalist who wrote an article in Der Spiegel questioning whether a bank robbery was really the work of the Red Army Faction. Boll suffered the consequences of his stance. The novel and the film are the results of his experiences and a criticism of the tabloid sensationalism tactics of the Springer Press. DVD extras include an interview with directors Volker Schlondorff and Margaretha von Trotta, excerpts from a documentary by Heinrich Boll, and an interview with the cinematographer. In German with English subtitles.

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Filed under German, Political/social films, Volker Schlondorff

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