The following is one of the entries from my 100 Greatest Films from Germany, Scandinavia, Finland & Austria list, which I invite you to visit on this site if you haven’t already done so. — Dennis
Brilliantly written and directed by Margarethe von Trotta and Volker Schlöndorff, The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, or: How Violence Develops and Where It Can Lead is an assault on the contemporary West German yellow press, showing the dire, even fatal consequences for innocent lives wrought by tabloid smears. From Heinrich Böll’s novel, it reflects the author’s own run-ins with Bild Zeitung.
Katharina Blum, a young maid who is completely apolitical, spends the night with a man she meets at a party. He is an anarchist. The police storm into her apartment the next morning and, in the absence of their main target, arrest her instead. A tabloid, The Paper, does the rest, smearing her as a politically motivated slut. Von Trotta and Schlöndorff intriguingly connect the police and the press, showing how the latter’s inapt democratic claims of “freedom of the press” distract from the former’s fascistic tactics and their own deutsche mark-chasing opportunism. Here, in the States, we speak of the media’s “feeding frenzy,” its steamrolling appetite for more and more “news” to keep a “story” current, which is to say, solvent. However, the monstrous activity this film portrays, however frenzied it may appear in the aggregate, is too calculatedly cruel and vicious to justify the term. Blum herself remarks that her ordeal, to which the authorities and the press contributed, robbed her of her honor. She ends up in a frame of mind that her existence previous to the ordeal could not have predicted.
Angela Winkler is wonderful in the lead role, especially when Katharina’s mother pays the ultimate price for her daughter’s misfortunes. Indeed, the entire cast, which includes a superb Heinz Bennent as a sympathetic lawyer, is flawless.