Germany in Autumn (West Germany, 1978):
(Deutschland im Herbst)

The German New Wave gathers to dissect the nation's mood of breakdown following tensions between the government and the left-wing terrorist group Red Army Faction, which culminated in late 1977 with the death of a magnate, the kidnapping of a jet and the alleged suicides of three of the movement's leaders. The resulting work is less digested commentary than free-floating meditation, veering from documentary to fiction and from blackly comic to baldly despairing. Alexander Kluge, Edgar Reitz, Katja Rupé, Volker Schlöndorff and Peter Schubert are among the contributing directors, writers and actors, though the film's message, layered through many different artists, remains remarkably consistent -- the supposedly liberal contemporary German authorities, in light of their actions in the terrorist crisis, have more in common with Third Reich fascism than they care to admit. The most forceful segment is Rainer Werner Fassbinder's opening sketch, "playing" himself reacting to the news -- fucking up his relationship with his lover, doing blow, getting paranoid and throwing up in toilets. This remarkable segment crystallizes the notion that revealing one's political opinions is no less confessional than revealing one's own naked body, and Fassbinder is fearless about letting a national crisis bleed in and out of the personal (including exposing his own authoritarian streak, as he bullies his mom into yearning for old authoritarian rulers). Other highlights: jailed RAF co-founder Horst Mahler linking terrorists and revolutionaries within the common ground of moral indignation; a spoof of the elusiveness of the political film in a student group's ardent mock-Eisenstein manifesto; a committee of suits tearing apart a production of Antigone for subversive context. Bookending the arguments are the constrasting funerals, the industrialist's (solemnly televised, reverently attended) and the three prisoners' (dumped into the ground, surrounded by fist-raised-in-solidarity youngsters). The power of the material seesaws, though the impulse to open up discussion and raise consciousness is valiant, infusing the bleakness of its final images -- violent police interventions, a woman and a little girl walking down the road -- with a hint of battered hope. Can you imagine an American equivalent following 9/11?

--- Fernando F. Croce

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