Margarethe von Trotta’s first solo directing effort – after co-directing the great The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum with Volker Schlondorff – is an immaculately acted, compelling debut.
Though on the surface this might feel like an RAF film (made in 1977, released in 1978, I kind of expected something like The Third Generation), it maybe has more in common with a Robert Bresson or someone modern like Kiarostami. von Trotta’s film is stark, features acting that is generally muted, has several unshowy long takes, has a spiritual and moral dimension to it, and relies heavily on internal decision-making by its characters.
Christa Klages (Tina Engel) and Werner (Marius Muller-Westernhagen) rob a bank to give money to a failing daycare. Their cohort is captured and their soon on the lam.
About midway through the film comes this scene, an obvious reference to Breathless. Christa is in a shop when she hears a commotion outside:
She looks and sees Werner fleeing:
A cop raises his gun and fires, shooting Werner in the back:
This is where the Godard-awareness really kicks in, as Werner, ala Belmondo’s Michel, runs unnaturally – nearly comically – long, away from camera, clutching his back and passing bystanders who do nothing but watch-
-before finally collapsing in the middle of the road:
Like in Godard’s film, there’s a cut to the female pursuing:
Unlike Godard’s film, it’s revealed, after the relatively long take of her running (note also that she’s running right to left, which is the same direction that the policeman fired. Screen direction therefore tells us that she’s running to Werner), that she’s going somewhere else entirely:
Where Michel’s demise in Breathless is Godard poking fun at Hollywood death sequences (not to mention the weakness of the female lead) here it’s nothing of the sort. von Trotta’s film – at the point of the cut where Christa runs inside a building to escape instead of to her fallen lover – departs immediately from reference and instead becomes revision, moving the film from melodrama to drama, from farce (which Breathless certainly plays as, at times) to realism. It makes New German cinema – at least her approach to it, which is rather different than that of many of the other major figures – something morally resonant, and less interested in teasing out winking aesthetics (I love Breathless, for the record).
The DVD I watched of Christa Klages is a god-awful transfer. The colors are washed out, it’s full of dust and hairs, and the audio sounds like it was filtered through old clock-radio speakers. I’d love to see this thing in a restored version, or better yet, a 35 print. Still, some of the director’s visuals are memorable, like this shot at the end of the film.
The costuming is simple, but it’s also menacing, not any less because of the flat look on Christa’s face that hides fear and defiance so well: