The film is a fictional reworking of the true story of the Esslin Sisters- one of whom was a successful social democratic feminist writer and the other a revolutionary member of the "terrorist" Baader-Meinhof Group (also called the Red Army Faction). Three members of the real Badder Meinhof group, Andreas Baader, Gudrun Enslin, and Jean-Carl Raspe mysteriously "committed suicide" while in prison after other members of the RAF allegedly participated in the kidnapping and eventual murder of a wealthy businessman and an aborted hijacking attempt. Popular opinion in Germany (and most other places) has always held that Baader, Enslin, and Raspe were murdered by the state. Much evidence seems to point towards reasonable doubt that the three took their own lives.
Von Totta takes the story of these two women and creates a kind of historical canvas (much as Orson Welles does with Hearst in Citizen Kane) to explore a wide range of issues concerning modern political and social life. The film is remarkably fair minded. Although, the narrative spends much more time with Julianne the social democratic journalist it does not stack the deck towards her. Her reformist views towards social change seems forced and at times desperate. Nor does Von Trotta, romanticize Marianne, the revolutionary. Her actions are often ill conceived and her confidence that history will prove her correct seem equally forced and desperate. Amazingly, Von Trotta creates a dialectic in this film by actually sympathizing with both women. She seems to suggest that in the remarkable confusion and despair of the late 20th century simply to attempt to remain engaged with a project that desires fundamental change is an act of hope.
The film is probably best known for its impeccable acting. The two leading performers Barbara Sukowa (Marianne) and Jutta Lempe (Julianne) are extraordinary. There scenes together are examples of some of the finest acting in contemporary cinema. The supporting performances in this film are also superb. One of the remarkable things is the way the film shows that two children from the same family could become radicalized in such different ways. The film definitely roots the women's politicalization in their family and national history. Why does one Sister become convinced that violent revolution is possible and necessary, while, the other becomes convinced that a nonviolent "war of position" is the more appropriate choice? Both women have clearly broken from the conservative tradition of their upbringing in the home of their Protestant Minister Father, but, what is it that has caused the ideological differences? Von Trotta is wise enough not to answer this question directly or didactically.
The late Canadian film critic, Jay Scott said in a review of the film: "The methodology is Proustian: Von Trotta cuts with effortless clarity back and forth through the sister's lives." This seems to be a remarkably efficient way of explaining the films structure and effect. The remarkable editing of this film by Dagmar Hirtz (whose excellent work has won him three German film awards- Check out his equally amazing contributions to Maximillian Schells END OF THE GAME, Jeanine Meerapfel's MALOU, and Volker Schlondorff's VOYAGER) and the cinematography by Franz Rath (whose lensed most of Von Trotta's films) should be studied as textbook examples of narrative film craftsmanship. The technical aspects of the film make the time tripping narrative technique seem natural rather than distancing.
Later in the same review, Scott says what I think is the most precise statement ever written about the film: "Marianne and Julianne is a document that struggles to come to terms with an impossible past in a barely feasible present, and its director appears to realize that her film, like its heroines, is trapped by history, which is why she avoids pretending to be definitive - either about the sisters, or about the agonies of the nation she has presumed to concretize in their story." This defiant stance of refusing to be definitive about character motivations and ethical/ideological essences connects the film to a wide variety of other masterworks that have also used contemporary history in a similarly complex way- I am reminded particularly of Alain Resnais (esp. Hiroshima Mon Amor and Muriel). I can't recommend this film highly enough. It is to my mind one of the most
Marianne & Juliane
Marianne & Juliane
Germany, 1968: The priest's daughters Marianna and Juliane both fight for changes in society, like making abortion legal. However their means are totally different: while Juliane's committed as a reporter, her sister joins a terroristic organization. After she's caught by the police and put into isolation jail, Juliane remains as her last connection to the rest of the world. Although she doesn't accept her sister's arguments and her boyfriend Wolfgang doesn't want her to, Juliane keeps on helping her sister. She begins to question the way her sister is treated.
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