Monday, May 14, 2007

Dr. Movie Notes: The Legend of Rita

Old revolutionaries never die; they just go into hiding. Somehow, it's hard to imagine an old revolutionary anyway. You see the confused and tepid middle-agers who were once the Weather Underground on CNN and wonder if there wasn't a mistake made somewhere. And just imagine Che Guevara in the retirement home, complaining about his lower back pain. How would the Baader-Meinhof gang have adjusted to neighborhood committee meetings and office parties? One imagines that the PTA would frown on the use of revolutionary violence to achieve their goals.

And how might they have atoned for their sins? Volker Schlöndorff's 1999 film, The Legend of Rita imagines a New Left terrorist forced to live in the purgatory of East Germany during the 1970s and 1980s and discovering that the 'people's' state isn't all that she imagined it would be. Meet the new boss; same as the old boss. The real wonder of Bibiana Beglau's lead performance here is that she conveys the deep disillusionment and cynicism of the character without overtly expressing it. One scene towards the end of the film, and in the storyline towards the end of the Soviet satellite states, is the most overt expression of the angry faith of the ardent believer, still burning after all these years.

Along the way, the character goes from a pop fiction bank robbery opening to a dreary existence in the worker's paradise, protected by a Stasi agent, played by Martin Wuttke's, and loved by co-worker Tatjana (Nadja Uhl) and a young student (Alexander Beyer) respectively. Because she is wanted for the murder of a Paris policeman, ''Rita'' cannot stay still for long, and is shuffled through a variety of jobs in which she is inevitably more fond of communism than her East German co-workers. Above all, what makes the film work as well as it does is Begalu's performance; she convinces as a passionate idealist whose vision of a just world stays with her as the reality slips further away from the ideal.
Film Notes Archive.

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