History lesson time: If you already know this then you can skip this section. The Baader-Meinhof gang was a group of anarchist fighters who terrorized West Germany in the seventies. They committed political acts that were seen as terrorism by the conservative government in charge at the time. (Confession: I sympathize with the anarchist philosophy although I do not consider myself an anarchist, so I do not see radical anarchists as terrorists. In fact I don’t see most people who are labeled as terrorists by the popular media as terrorists.) This gang was used as a scape goat for most violent acts in West Germany by the conservative government and most importantly (for our purposes at least) the yellow journalists and popular sensationalist papers. They blamed almost everything wrong in their society on this band of radicals that are trying to get across their political message through violence. Caught up in this fear mongering was a Nobel prize-winning journalist who defended the Baader-Meinhof against accusations that they held up a bank when the press had no proof. He was targeted by the press and his personal life was dissected for all of the world to see. He was accused of being a terrorist sympathizer and helping the Baader-Meinhof gang with their activities. Whether or not this was true is besides the point. The real point was that these papers could care less if it was true… in the eyes of the society it was because they made it so. This journalist retaliated against the accusations by writing a book about his experiences and titling it the Lost Honor of Katharina Blum. Two friends of his who were also in the film industry took his story and made this film. This is the story of how a simple act can be twisted and seen as a radical one.
Katharina Blum is a maid living in Berlin. She goes to a party at one of her friend’s and meets a boy. They have an instant connection and go home together. The next morning after the boy has left, her apartment gets bombarded with police. Apparently the boy she had over the night before is a terrorist who had robbed a bank right before coming to the party. He was tailed to the party and then to her apartment, but somehow slipped away into the darkness before the police could catch him. Automatically Katharina is accused of being a terrorist sympathizer and her personal details are dissected by the police. Other than a Karl Marx quote that was hand written in a book and a few expensive items that were given to her by a lover that she will not reveal, they have nothing to accuse her of. But that doesn’t stop the police feeding information about her to a journalist and his photographer. This journalist makes up facts about her, visits her dying mother to get a deathbed confession, and basically rips her life apart in order to make the headlines look more interesting. Her reputation is completely destroyed and she is terrorized by her neighbors and strangers on the street. She decides to do just what the police accused her of doing: she helps the terrorist escape.
This movie isn’t perfect. The woman who plays Katharina Blum can be compared to Buster Keaton’s image as the Great Stony Face. She reveals close to no emotions and keeps everything close to the chest. This keeps the character mysterious, but it can also make the movie drag just a bit when the camera is pointed at her emotionless visage. The cinematography is also a little bit murky. There are times when a scene doesn’t seem to be lighted quite right or the camera isn’t positioned in the right direction and it is difficult to see what is happening in the scene. Despite all this, I think the political message is palpable enough to merit this movie a watch. I sat and watched this movie thinking the whole time why someone would be able to do this. How are we as a society think that this is okay? Surely this doesn’t happen anymore. Then I sat around thinking about it and I remembered the Boston Marathon attack that happened in 2013. The muckraking that happened after that admittedly tragic event eclipsed the actual impact of a single event. For months after that event you could not pick up a major newspaper, magazine, or news site without reading about the “terrorist” that had perpetrated the event. There was even a short time when the popular media ceased upon a man who was completely innocent and accused him of being the bomber all because he had a red hoodie on that was described by bystanders. The world hasn’t changed and no matter how much we want it to be it isn’t getting better. Until we can as a society take a step back and take a deep breath, then we will continue to have events like Ferguson, Trayvon Martin and the Boston Marathon bombing take place and rock our worlds.