Sunday, November 21, 2010

Wobbly times number 94

Die Stille nach dem Schuß (Silence follows the shot)
This movie has the title "The Legend of Rita" in English.

The Red Army Faction (RAF) was a self-described, communist, anti- imperialist urban guerrilla organisation based in the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany). The RAF had a theoretically superficial Marxist-Leninist set of politics similar to those of Weatherman in the USA and the Red Army Faction in Japan. These were young people, many of them college students, who felt both a guilt about and sympathy for Third World nationalist revolutions; revolutions they believed, were the vanguard of a world revolution which would eventually sweep the 'fascist imperialist' States away.

Che Guevara captured what Schlöndorff is attempting to portray in his film concerning the mental spirit of these German student, revolutionary romantics when he reflected on his own audacity and political commitment:

"At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality... We must strive every day so that this love of living humanity will be transformed into actual deeds, into acts that serve as examples, as a moving force."

Action and audacity were the Red Army Faction's (RAF) strong suit. "The Legend of Rita" (original German title "Die Stille nach dem Schuß" ) is set in the divided Germany of the 70s. Rita is a young fearless romantic in love with a left-wing revolutionary, one Andreas 'Andi' Klein, a guy who is more or less the leader of an RAF group which she is a part of. Their RAF group is armed, ruthless and robs banks to fund 'the revolution'. These revolutionaries naively explain their robberies in terms of 'anti- imperialist' politics : Yes, out loud, to customers as they clean out the capitalist bank vault and cash drawers, with weapons drawn.

Adrenal rush and surprise hit one in this film from start to finish. From jail breaks to motorcycle chases, to life behind the Iron Curtain, the film comes at you again and again with images you've been brainwashed to feel uncomfortable with. (Caution viewers: you may feel a violation of your Hollywoodised sensibilities.) You'll also feel the kind of careless courage these young people of the RAF had, as they consciously faced death, even as they reached out for a better life-- actually,a better life for others, mostly. As many, many of the New Left, Rita and her fellow RAF members are motivated to take violent political action in order to assuage a deeply felt guilt about being born in First World privilege. They are more moralists than materialists--romantic poets ready to use murder as a political weapon. In the midst of all this direct, violent action, some of them change, become more hard hearted, mechanically calculating. Rita's boyfriend is one of them and when this happens, love dies. Rita is a lover first and a revolutionary second. In her heart of hearts, she wants to settle down, have kids, a husband, the whole modern suburban dream, albeit in a more egalitarian, 'anti- imperialist' society. Rita wants mutual love more than anything else and as she learns more about the duplicitous mendacity of the coldly calculating political apparatus in both the East and West, she comes to the realisation that political States are always ready to opportunistically sacrifice their oft repeated, propagandised moral goals and callously toss human lives on the scrapheap for political gain. As a result, she grows closer to the only person who ever measured up to her romantic expectations, an East German woman named, Tatjana.

Volker Schlöndorff has directed a master portrait of a political situation, a time and a place which is quickly disappearing down the 'memory hole'. Not only are the West German RAF, with their Ton Stein Scherben albums and sneering hatred for bourgeois complacency critically and sympathetically examined; but the 'actually existing socialism' of the DDR of that era is laid bare as well. East Germany is portrayed realistically, down to the last idiosyncrasy, from the near empty roads, to the Radeberger Pilsner, to the workers' apartments in those large, multi- storied college dorm-like buildings in urban East Berlin. This portrait will disturb long held mainstream 'Time' magazine inspired conceptions of East Germany, some would say, 'with extreme prejudice'. Rest assured, the film's honesty extends across both sides of the East/West border. Far from revolutionary or socialist, most of the citizens of the DDR are portrayed as being quite conservative, endorsing whichever police are in charge of the political State. The point is hammered home at the end of the movie, when the fall of the Wall in 1989 is portrayed; a time when Rita and her audience are supposed to come to the realisation of just what die Stille nach dem Schuß entails.

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