Dark Times

(Die bleierne zeit, aka The German Sisters, Margarethe von Trotta, Germany, 1981)


(notes from a review broadcast live on Melbourne radio station 3RRR in 1981)


Reds, Ragtime, Dark Times: we are currently seeing a cycle of films about the interrelation of history, politics and personal life. Von Trotta’s contribution is about terrorism, in particular: a narrative inspired by and closely modelled on the real-life story of Gudrun Ensslin, member of the Baader-Meinhof Group, and her sister Christiane.


The film rests upon a rather overheated myth of sisterhood – something turned on its head in Mark Rappaport’s The Scenic Route (1978). But at least it’s a modern myth: these women are not closer (than men) to the emotional or domestic realm (which is the old stereotype of melodrama); they are closer to the social, to revolutionary upheaval!


These sisters are posited as semantic opposites; and yet these opposites cancel each other out when framed within the proscenium arch of the Spectacle.


Here, the Personal registers as an irruption, a dark underside of History. It’s the terrorist-sympathetic version of Herstory.


The male characters, on the other hand, are pictured as apolitical schmucks.


It’s a certain type of Leftist romance, in spectacular-narrative-novelistic mode; its keynotes are melancholia and trauma.


It is a film of romance – and of pose. It seems embarrassed by the clichés it takes on, but manages to say nothing much beyond them: about terrorism, work …


It’s full of undigested political material: on the Holocaust, the bomb, the sanctity of human life.


Dark Times is the negative mirror-image of Yvonne Rainer’s radical Journeys from Berlin/1971  (1980): because von Trotta is not devoted to spinning a film which is a web of contradictions and problems.


Basically, it’s an art-film bore, too clean, too straight: high on atmospherics, ambiguity, cool – but with no real substance.


MORE von Trotta: The Promise, Rosenstrasse

© Adrian Martin 1981

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
home    reviews    essays    search