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The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum Review

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by Casimir Harlow Sep 29, 2009 at 12:00 AM

    The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum Review
    Terrorism has definitely given the authorities carte blanche with regards to how severely it treats its suspects. Such a vague term, it has enabled Governments, police forces, investigative units and so forth to do anything from harass to torture whoever falls within the general terrorism sphere. Unknowingly associate with somebody suspected of something by the authorities, and you could soon find yourself the subject of their intrusive eyes - a suspect yourself: guilt by association. Perhaps you won't have Jack Bauer cracking down your door to hammer your fingers until you confess, but you will most likely be asked a whole bunch of probing questions, and -depending on your answers - may have your whole life turned upside down and inspected with a fine-tooth comb.


    Most have learned that the best response is to be submissive and diplomatic about the whole thing: nobody jokes about bombs at airports anymore - not even in the movies - and were the police to break down your door and start flinging accusations about a former lover being a terrorist, you may be distraught, but you'd probably be quite open about everything to at least clear the mess up. That is something that only innocent people can generally do. Of course, the other option is to be reticent, secretive and take umbrage with the whole invasion of privacy - defending yourself and your position and refusing to respond to such aggressive investigations. I guess this is really our right - we have a right to stand up against such intrusions, assert our innocence without a need to say any more: innocent until proven guilty is the motto. But in the modern age where you can say anyone's involved in 'terrorism' just to grease the wheels for an investigation, the reality is that we don't have as many rights as we would like to think. And, really, the best thing is probably to be open about everything and put away your pride. After all, you can't fight the current anti-terrorist state, even if it represents one unnoticed but significant, passive death of our rights.


    After a one-night stand, Katharina Blum wakes to find armed police breaking down her door and interrogating her about the man she has slept with. She displays little shock, taking a stance against the authorities, reluctant to divulge anything beyond a simple 'he's gone'. Locked up, questioned repeatedly, her stubbornness and pride - perhaps the extreme end of dignity - only provokes the police into intruding further into her life, enquiring as to every little event, right down to the mileage on her car. All the while, an immoral, ambitious reporter digs up everything he can find about her past and glosses it over to represent exactly what will sell newspapers - putting a slant on everything from her ex-husband's views of her to her dying mother's mumblings. Slowly finding her life destroyed, what will Katharina do?


    Although it is a fairly simple concept, Katharina Blum is quite a frightening look at what the police or authorities can do when they catch even the slightest whiff of terrorism in their midst, the lengths they can go to to find out the 'truth' that they are looking for, and the reaction of the press themselves, who embellish and aggrandise the situation purely to cater for their voyeuristic vulture-like readers. It looks at the smudged lines, creating a grey area surrounding Katharina's involvement - Is she hiding this guy? Does she know about his terrorist affiliations? Is she collaborating with him, or just protecting him because she thinks she is in love with him? And it also makes us ask whether or not any of this even matters - is it just as simple as: if you knowingly associate with a terrorist then you face the wrath of the authorities and the press?


    The plight of Katharina also provokes a mixed-bag of sympathy for her - she has clearly brought some of this on herself, but does she really deserve the treatment she has gotten? Has she just had her entire life destroyed all in the name of love? Thought-provoking, politically-charged and intellectually stimulating, the story is clearly one that has become particularly topical of late - so much so that they are planning a Big Screen remake for next year, which will no doubt do particularly well given the current 'war on terror'. It's not the first time we've had a remake of this German indie classic - an Eighties TV movie starring Kris Kristofferson unsurprisingly bombed, and had none of the impact that this Seventies gem did.


    Perhaps this is because of the problems at the time that Germany had with internal terrorism, and the general anti-authority sentiments felt because of the oppressive regime. Germany was always straight-laced and conformist (compared to the French, who were prone to revolting) and were very scared to let any anti-capitalistic tendencies run amok. Don't forget Germany and its constitution were reborn after the disaster of the Second World War - itself partly set-off by the excesses of the decadent Weimar republic era - so it's hardly surprising that their self-policing often involved using machine guns and armoured cars at a time when we were still happy with truncheons and the odd shotgun or revolver when things got out of hand. Katharina Blum successfully charts the sentiment during this era - the oppressive regime and the desperation of the individual to break free: terrorists during this period had extremely high moral imperatives, and - given the recent events which have brought this very much into evidence it definitely seems like the right time to take this story concept and put it inside the modern world order.


    Now, as a general rule, I despise remakes, but there will always be exceptions. And the 2010 re-imagining of this film may well be one of them. This is still a quiet little German movie - irrespective of its topical significance - filmed and set in the Seventies, with a docu-drama style and subtle, nuanced performances from little-known actors and actresses (the only person you may recognise is the suspected terrorist, played by Jurgen 'The Da Vinci Code' Prochnow, although Katharina Blum herself - Angela Winkler - may well be a reasonably well known name in her home territory, but her performance here offers scant insight into her worn-down character). It is likely only ever going to be appreciated by its original fans, or viewers from that generation. There is nothing here to really appeal to younger generations, the language, the setting all too difficult to relate to, or draw parallels to when trying to find the real significance behind the tale. Handled right, the subject-matter may well benefit from a decent remake, allowing wider audiences to start asking questions about the way their society has quietly evolved into a passively submissive oppressed state. And ask questions about the lives destroyed by the rampant, unchecked investigations of the media, which provide us with an exciting new headline each and every day.