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Films by Margarethe von Trotta

Posted by keith1942 on January 10, 2019

This is a package of films from the important German film-maker distributed round Britain at the start of 2019 by the Independent Cinema Office with support from the Goethe-Institut London and German Screen Studies Network. This is a welcome initiative. Some of the titles, such as Rosa Luxembourg (1986), are rarely seen. Some, like The German Sisters / Die bleierne Zeit (1981), have not been available theatrically for years. The films are circulated in new digital versions; but German digital transfer are usually very good. What I find less happy is the title of the programme, ‘the personal is political’. This seems to me back-to-front; von Trotta’s films actually suggest that the ‘political is personal’.

 

 

In The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum / Die verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum (1975, co-directed with Volker Schlöndorf) the titular character becomes a victim of tabloid journalism. Whilst this results from a personal relationship what fuels her persecution by the media and the authorities is her supposed political connections. The focus of the film these reactionary aspects of West German culture.

 

 

One can see this in von Trotta’s first solo feature, The Second Awakening of Christa Klages / Das zweite Erwachen der Christa Klages (1978). The protagonist Christa is a young mother involved in running a free nursery. It is the problems of the nursery that lead to her actions, some of these being criminal. The film certainly addresses motherhood but this is in a social context. At one point in the film Christa and her friend hide out in Portugal where they work in an agricultural commune. It is this type of political and social context that dominates the film.

 

 

The political and social context is just as prominent tin her next film, one of my favourites, The German Sisters. Dramatizing in fictional form aspects of the famous/infamous Red Army Faction. One sister, Juliane, is a feminist journalist; the other, Marianne, is a member of a revolutionary faction committed to armed action. Their relationship, the travails and disputes that arise, all follow from their political rather than their personal positions. The film indeed dramatizes female relationships and [again] motherhood but this is within the political discourses in which the two sisters reside.

 

 

The fourth film is Rosa Luxemburg. This is a biopic of one of the outstanding revolutionaries of the early twentieth century. Luxemburg is a feminist icon and she fought against the patriarchal tendencies within the revolutionary movement. But her driving force was the class struggle and proletarian revolution. The way that she utilised bourgeois marriage is indicative of a stance that prioritises the political over the personal. The characterisation of Luxemburg emphasises the revolutionary standpoint, that the political informs the personal rather than the other way round. Luxembourg prioritised the class struggle over the struggle round gender. Whereas ‘the personal is political’ often tends to prioritise gender over class.

I am looking forward to revisiting these fine films by von Trotta. Apart from her undoubted cinematic and narrative skills this film director is unusual [in contrast to the majority of male and female film directors] in skilfully integrating fine film-making and story telling with the central political issues of our time.

Rosa Luxemburg is screening at the Hyde Park Picture House on January 15th.

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One Response to “Films by Margarethe von Trotta”

  1. […] but also true of may was how the political sphere determined the personal: a point I made regarding the films of Margarethe von […]

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