Director: Margarethe von Trotta
(Original German title: Die Geduld der Rosa Luxemburg)
The film Rosa Luxemburg deals with an important period of German history. While the film is about Luxemburg herself, the important points of the film are really about the developments in German Social Democracy and Socialism at that time, although these were important themes for and were a major part of Rosa Luxemburg’s own life.
At least that is the backdrop of the film. Much like the film Reds, the historical characters are the focus. The mood is also an important part of the film: the optimism shared by many characters that quickly fades to pessimism and confusion as the organizations like the Social Democratic Party begin to support Germany’s entry into WWI.
The film’s focus did have it’s shortcomings, however. The two periods focused on the most in the film are firstly, Luxemburg’s involvement in socialist politics leading up to WWI and secondly her time in jail during the war itself. The Spartacus League was not a focus of the group, even though it was an important group in the history of the German Left. The Spartacist Uprising did play an important part towards the end, but it seemed a bit rushed in the context of the film that focused much on Luxemburg’s personal life.
It is quite interesting to see important historical figures fighting personal battles in the film. For example even at dinner events, Luxemburg polemicizes against who she sees as “reformist leaders” who are not attached to the working class masses. While some of these scenes seem a bit forced, watching it with politics in mind can be quite helpful. Then again, films like this are usually watched by folks who are already somewhat interested in either in the particular kind of history being dealt with or in Left wing politics and theory.
Besides the over focus on certain parts of Luxemburg’s personal life (it was a biographical film after all), it was refreshing to view a film that contained polemics by revolutionaries against those who were turning away from that kind of politics at the time. The split between Marxism and Social Democracy was an important moment for the European Left and particularly in Germany, where the SPD played a significant role in the promotion of Marxism and the working class movement itself.
While the film only deals with a small part of the German Revolution, and important and overlooked event in working class history, it is still an important contribution and deals with a famous historical figure of the Left.
This fall the Left Film Review was able to sit down with Jacob Tierney, director of The Trotsky, at the Atrium (60 Wall St.)
We discussed the role of politics in film, the role that film can play in social change, how the structure of film plays into these themes, and his film The Trotsky.
Director: Tanya Hamilton
Night Catches Us is a film about the mood of the late 70s and the decline of the Civil Rights movement and the mood of that era. The film focuses on a character named Marcus who was recently released from jail after having been involved with the Black Panther Party. He faces a host of problems once he returns: the most serious of which being that he is accused of snitching on his former comrades.
As the film focuses on his reintegration into his community, a host of characters and their personal plights are highlighted very well. On top of well done focus of the film, the style of the film is an intimate one with excellent character development and beautiful cinematography, not to mention the great score by The Roots. The style is important, as it is an attempt to capture the mood of the era. The film opens with an optimistic speech given by Jimmy Carter who was at that time about to be the incoming President.
The contrast of Carter’s speech and reality is felt throughout the film. One of the main characters is Iris, a 10 year old girl who is the daughter of Marcus’ comrade from before he was in prison. Her role in the film is to essentially bring to life the “guilt” of the mistakes of the past. This is shown by the constant need for Marcus and Patricia (Iris’s mother) to have to explain their past to her, and in an uncomfortable way that echos the mood and theme of the entire film.
The film takes a very honest approach towards the Panthers and indirectly addresses one of the main internal contradictions they faced: paranoia in the face of very real repression. In this case, the personal relationships and how they were affect is what is being examined, which is an important aspect to these struggles: they were about real people. That is not to say that the politics of the era took a backseat to personal problems. Nor is it to say that the film presents a sort of “being involved with radical violent groups has consequences” message. While the characters are fully aware of the mistakes of the past, a cheesy denouncement of their previously idealistic selves is absent from the film which is quite refreshing compared to many more mainstream narratives about radical movements of the time.
Often when films that deal with “far left” themes are sought out, they can be mediocre or not well done. Night Catches US is far from that, wining awards and being critically acclaimed while also dealing with an issue far too underrepresented in the media. It is an important addition to the stock of films that deals with questions that the Left is concerned with, as well as a great addition to film in general.