Margarethe von Trotta's celebrated biopic of socialist writer and activist Rosa Luxemburg comes to Blu-ray
Rosa Luxemburg (Barbara Sukowa) addresses a crowd: “Those who point to 40 years of peace in Europe are forgetting about the wars that took place outside Europe, and in which Europe had a hand.” In 1986, Margarethe von Trotta’s biopic of the socialist writer and activist had a profound relevance for audiences. It is part of the tragedy of Luxemburg’s character that this new digital restoration of von Trotta’s film remains so affecting.
2019 marks 100 years since Rosa Luxemburg’s brutal murder at the hands of German paramilitaries. In the chaos that followed the end of the First World War, Luxemburg’s leadership of the Communist Party made her a target for those who sought to retain power in Germany. The film depicts her life from 1900, as she campaigns tirelessly for pacifism, freedom of opposition and democracy.
To humanise historical figures, some filmmakers create cloying melodramas by inventing romanticism. For Luxemburg there is no need, for she is deeply embedded in a revolutionary movement where the political is personal. Von Trotta’s screenplay draws on some 2500 of Luxemburg’s letters; invaluable when portraying a real person with real problems. Barbara Sukowa’s award-winning performance conveys a characteristic that is so rarely captured authentically – intelligence. Luxemburg gave rousing speeches to thousands, challenging and humiliating the leadership of her own party and throughout the film we see her struggle with loneliness.
She is imprisoned nine times, so often at odds with the political views of friends or family and stricken with the challenges that faces a woman who employed her intellect publicly. She is consistently patronised by those around her but refuses to relinquish her desires: to have love, passions and children, but also work and have intellectual experiences. There is no directorial flashiness, instead von Trotta finds poetry in Luxemburg’s own writing, creating images that emphasise the deepness of her humanity in an historical period so often over-simplified.