English Title: The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum
Original title: Die verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum
Country: West Germany
Genre: Crime, Drama
Margarethe von Trotta
based on the novel of Heinrich Böll
Music: Hans Werner Henze
Cinematography: Jost Vacano
Karl Heinz Vosgerau
Husband-and-wife team Schlöndorff (his sixth feature) and von Trotta (her first feature) bring Heinrich Böll’s sensational novel to the big screen, THE LOST HONOR OF KATHARINA BLUM is everything one may imagine from a political reportage made in West Germany during the 70s: following the guidance of a forensic eye, a steely heroine (masked by her innocent or accomplice opaqueness and her political slant) comes under harsh interrogation by the sloppy police force, who majestically fails to seize their suspect in the first place; unscrupulous reporters harass those related or involved like a callous fly, cook up stories to manipulate the reaction from the populace, thus to ensure that more papers are sold; more private matters will surface, some big name is enmeshed, some insider deal needs to be organised, whilst, Katharine Blum (Wrinkler), our protagonist, retreats to be a cog in the machine.
But, at the end of the day, what happens is simply a love-at-first-sight romance between two strangers, although it doesn’t sound so credible in the soil of German, but there is absolutely no political agenda involved, the only bug is, the target Ludwig (Prochnow) is a wanted anarchist, and in this case, the subsequent occurrence will destroy Katharina’s tranquil life, eventually turns her into an avenging angel with blood in her hands, but at that point, we will emotionally stand by her as her vindictive resolution engages as the only satisfactory compensation (not just for her, but for viewers too) against a grim, unfair and repressive society where morality and humanity have lost their grounds to political alienation and media obsession.
Both law enforcement and paper media, and their symbiosis are under scrutiny, although the ignoble journalist Werner Tötges (Laser) takes the brunt of reproach here, but the scene where he visits Katharina’s dying mother in the hospital inconveniently imposes as a stretch of its own manipulative story-telling from the director-duo (since he has no qualms about publishing a truth-twisted report, there is really no need for him to torture a dying woman like that, the purpose of that scene is too obvious); Inspector Beizmenne (Adorf) and DA (Becker) aren’t exactly chummy characters to hang out with, they represent a different sort of violence and cruelty, which viciously menaces to strip Katharina of her privacy using their black-face/white-face strategy, whenever they find something needs an explanation, whether or not it is relevant to Ludwig, whom she knows only for one night. A third party to be condemned (if only in a minor gesture) is Katharina’s employer, the middle-class lawyer Hubert (Bennent), Katharina works for him as a housekeeper, and one of his client, the “mysterious gentleman” Alois (Vosgerau), whom Katharina has been seeing over several years but refuses to reveal to the police under any kind of questioning. They have self-serving reasons to play safe in the game which are understandable, it is their brazen desperation and self-obsessed consideration that is too sickening to stomach.
The film refrains from being a more captivating thriller with its sparing usage of action pieces, the big arrest in the end hasn’t been portrayed directly, so as to leave all the leverage to Katharina’s final revenge scene, which doesn’t disappoint, and Angela Winkler proves that she is such a powerhouse of stamina despite of her vulnerable first impression, gradually she grows on you with her slow disintegration during all the grilling and slander from media and public, but she never loses her core of strength, an excellent exemplar of a slow-burner in the German acting school.
The epilogue scenes are another slap-in-the-face of the hypocrisy of the modern journalism, as clear as day, Tötges is killed not because he is a journalist, but an unethical bastard. Unnervingly, one has no trouble tracing the film’s continuing relevance in today’s world, which in fact, gives its sustaining life force of this 40-year-old curio.