It was almost love at first sight for Katharina Blum (Angela Winkler) when she met Ludwig Gotten (Jurgen Prochnow) at a party one night. They got to talking, indulged in a spot of dancing, really clicked, but what she didn't know was that he was under surveillance by the authorities. West Germany had been suffering terrorist cells blighting their society in the name of anarchy and fighting back against the establishment who they feared were too right wing in echoes of what had happened before the Second World War. Ludwig was one such cell member and even though Katharina had no political affiliation she was particularly bothered about, one night later she is implicated...
The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum, or Die verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum as it was known originally, began as a scathing look at the oppressive government of West Germany in the nineteen-seventies, according to the filmmakers at any rate (and their concerns were shared by many of their countrymen). However, somewhere in that rather conventional "down with the Man!" narrative there emerged another target, which they saw as if anything just as bad, and in some ways worse, which was the gutter press. This was not the only nation to raise concerns about the underhand, to say the least, efforts of journalists to create the most sensational stories they could, but it produced one of the most hate-filled examinations of them.
The fact that the filmmakers Volker Schlöndorff and Margarethe von Trotta in this joint work (they were married at the time), one of the most recognisable of the German cinematic New Wave, were part of the media too was not a source of irony, as after all there were all sorts of opinions to be heard, but the way in which the right wing scandal sheets set themselves up as the arbiters of good taste and morality was nothing short of revoltingly hypocritical in the directors' eyes. They adapted a novel by Heinrich Böll who was on hand to assist with the script, so this was not based on any one case other than his personal experiences with the Fifth Estate, though neither was it drawn from the air as there were plenty of victims of the combination of government and media going through what poor Katharina does here.
The first inkling she gets that something is wrong occurs when the cops break down her door the morning after the party and demand to see Ludwig. Luckily for him but unluckily for her he has slipped away in the night, leaving her to pay the piper as she is humiliated by the cops - having to dress herself with the door open so she is in full view of them, for instance - and spirited away to some secret location where she is interrogated. Naturally, as she and her brief fling didn't talk politics she has no idea of what to say to them, much less what they want to hear, so they believe she has a lot to hide when actually the opposite is true. They do let her home eventually, yet her nightmare is only beginning as the powers that be have told the press about her.
So they start hounding the poor woman, encouraging obscene phone calls, letters and general harrassment, not for anything she had done, but because of that one night of romance - and, it is darkly implied, because it doesn't matter that she is innocent, just that they can make up all sorts of awful stories about her to sell their rags to the masses who lap it up unquestioningly. One of the vilest journos is played by Dieter Laser whose late career notoriety was as the mad doctor in internet meme The Human Centipede: no less horrible in this he sneaks in to see Katharina's mother on her deathbed to get an exclusive, taking the confused woman's words and twisting them to sound as if she was deeply disapproving of her daughter. It is here the plot becomes problematic for other reasons: Katharina would not have resorted to terrorist acts before her ordeal, but the film climaxes with her taking the law into her own hands, an act which backfires if the final speech is anything to go by. Yet the point there is nobody to turn to when the press turn on you is vividly portrayed. Music by Hans Werner Henze.