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Kino on Video presents
"We wanted to try the impossible, at least once in our lives."
DVD ReviewFor all its critical acclaim and promotional slogans claiming that The Legend of Rita is a kinetic political thriller, it's actually a character study of one German woman, who happens at one time in her life to be an international terrorist, but soon finds out that she just wants to be normal. And if there's anything that makes for a bad movie, it's normalcy. The Legend of Rita works a lot better as a lesson in the way many Germans feel ambivalent about their backgrounds. This movie deals with life on the eastern side of the Berlin wall without characterizing it as the bald-faced enemy of any freedom-loving human being, and for that it is admirable, as well as its realistic portrayal of all different kinds of people. However, the film never really becomes very engaging, which is what counts the most.
Bibiana Beglau plays Rita Vogt, an international terrorist fighting against the supposed imperialist systems of the Western World. She and her ragtag band of terrorist comrades befriend Erwin Hull (Martin Wuttke), an East German secret police agent who helps the terrorists with shelter and training, working on the assumption that any enemy of an enemy is a friend. After a disastrous run-in with a French policeman, Rita finds herself losing the energy and idealism she once had, and decides to move into East Germany under an assumed name, or "legend." Her first legend is Susanne Schmidt, working in a textile factory, where Rita meets Tatjana (Nadja Uhl), a girl who wants to escape to the other side of "the Wall." The two become friends, but then someone recognizes Rita as a terrorist, and she is forced to move again. Slowly her old life collapses down upon each of her new lives, until she has nowhere left to go.
The Legend of Rita is an ambitious film. To attempt to capture the pain and confusion of being a post-WWII German in a realistic light is certainly difficult, and Schlöndorff succeeds on many levels. Each of the terrorists, but Rita especially, are odd mixtures of zeal and regret. On one level they believe in what they are doing, but on another, they just want to lead a normal life. Bibiana Beglau walks this fine line with a graceful subtlety. Early on in the picture, she is all zest and energy, but it soon becomes clear that she is more interested in being with her friends than in any particular political ideals. At one point, she says to another terrorist, "You were the one true love of my life," , to which he responds with confusion; at first glance it does seem an odd comment in the context of the scene. But later we see that she wasn't referring to just men, but also to the terrorist group, which she never really loved at all. As Rita tries to blend into normal lives, Bibiana plays her as much more subdued, even if she still contains a quiet inner strength that keeps her going.
Still, no matter how admirable the idea of the film or the performances are, the fact is that the final product is somewhat mundane. The audience never really gets to connect with the characters. The fact that Rita won't find happiness anywhere—whether because she's not where she should be or that she will be pulled away from what makes her happy—becomes evident pretty early on. Her attempts to be normal are thoroughly boring: who wants to watch a generic face in the crowd? Unlike Taxi Driver, where Scorsese takes a seemingly trivial person and focuses on him to make his story important, Schlöndorff takes a person with a potentially interesting story and tries to make her trivial. Perhaps his style seems somewhat cold, as I never felt connected enough to Rita to wish her a totally normal life. I wanted her to be foiled, and when you're rooting for the hero to fail, you know something is probably wrong with the movie. Also, Rita's relationship with Tatjana quickly moves away from being an interesting study in contrasts (one girl who wants to blend into the background to be free, and the other who wants to break free of her life in the background) to becoming a semi-homoerotic relationship. Not even this is studied in any great detail, so I have to wonder why it was there in the first place. Just being salacious for the sake of it?
Perhaps the film's biggest flaw is that very element: the way that an interesting idea or relationship is suggested, but then dropped. This, of course, is a function of the script, where Rita is being torn away from any chance of happiness because of her terrorist past. But this becomes as frustrating for the audience as it is for Rita. While I don't mind a movie that asks more questions than it answers, I just wish that this movie would have taken the time to develop some of the questions in more detail, instead of just moving to another set of problems that remain superficial because of the inability to explore any particular one in depth. The Legend of Rita would have worked much better as a Godfather-type epic. The fact that Rita lives different lives would make the "multigenerational epic" a possibility with just one generation: instead of moving from one generation to another, we move from one life to another.
Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: B-
Image Transfer Review: Overall, this transfer isn't too bad. While not the most stunning I've ever seen, the blacks are solid, and there's no color bleeding or artifacts. I did notice that some of the larger exterior shots seemed overly grainy. The worst thing about this transfer is that it's not anamorphically enhanced. I don't understand how a DVD company in this day and age wouldn't anamorphically enhance every widescreen transfer they have. It should just be the norm, period.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: This is a pretty good stereo mix. There is no hissing, and it has a nice low end, all things considered. It does a good job of correlating spatial location to speaker direction and volume of the sound. Nothing to shout about, but not bad by any means.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 14 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
8 Other Trailer(s) featuring Himalaya, Come And See, The Ogre, Happy Together, Fallen Angels, Those Who Love Me Can Take A Train, Institute Benjamenta, Time Regained
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director Volker Schl–ndorff
Layers Switch: n/a
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsAn ambitious project, The Legend of Rita unfortunately doesn't seem to know what questions it wants to ask. Is it about the unrest of the generation that followed the Nazis? Is it about a woman's failed relationships? Is it about the way rash choices made early in life can have lasting effects later on? With a little more thought, it could have been about all of these things and more; as it is, the film jumps from one question to another like a schizophrenic flea, and never explores any of them sufficiently.
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