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With: Bibiana Beglau, Martin Wuttke, Nadja Uhl, Harald Schrott, Alexander Beyer, Jenny Schilly, Mario Irrek, Franca Kastein, Thomas Arnold
Written by: Wolfgang Kohlhaase, Volker Schlöndorff
Directed by: Volker Schlöndorff
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: German with English subtitles
Running Time: 103
Date: 02/16/2000

The Legend of Rita (2001)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Secret Identities

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

German director Volker Schlondorff, whose career includes such highlights as second unit directing on Alain Resnais' Last Year at Marienbad (1961), and an Oscar win as director with The Tin Drum (1979), returns with one of his most assured and accomplished works, The Legend of Rita.

Most of Schlondorff's work over the years (Death of a Salesman, Palmetto) has dabbled in variations on style, often re-creating the careful staging of Resnais' work. But for The Legend of Rita, he opts for a more fashionable stripped-down approach, not unlike the Dogme '95 films. His camera burrows through the story, moving from side to side, to get inside of it. It observes and records without sentiment or commentary.

Bibiana Beglau delivers a brilliant performance as Rita, a German bank robber and terrorist during the 1980's. After a botched prison break, she and her comrades are forced to change identities and split up. She gets a job in a factory working alongside the drunken and semi-suicidal Tatjana (Nadja Uhl) and the two develop a close relationship (the movie hints at a sexual connection). But a co-worker recognizes a distinguishing mark on Rita's elbow and she must move on to another personality, this one a lifeguard. She falls in love with a male lifeguard named Jochen (Alexander Beyer) and once again finds her identity in danger.

Of course, the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 works into the end of the story. Rita sees it as the death of her beliefs, and perhaps her identity as well. She makes no apologies for her behavior during the dark times and neither does the film. She was simply doing what any brave human being would do under the circumstances.

During the first 20 or 30 minutes of the film, Schlondorff treats us to a bank robbery, a prison break, a motorcycle chase scene, and a shooting. Yet, once all this excitement is over, the film somehow continues at the same pace. Schlondorff does not let us forget that Rita's life is constantly in danger, no matter how safe or comfortable she may become. The Tatjana sequence becomes especially frenetic through Tatjana's live-fast-die-young attitude. She has a device in her kitchen that boils water instantly, but will kill if touched in the wrong way. The Jochen sequence is interrupted when Rita accidentally meets her old comrade, Friederike (Jenny Schilly) who now sings in a choir. The two tearfully reunite and Friederike introduces Rita to her husband and child. Rita says "I'm glad you're happy," but Friederike responds, "What makes you think I'm happy?"

Friederike has gone deeper undercover than Rita and still has not found happiness. But it's not happiness Rita is really after. What she wants more than anything is to stay true to her beliefs. And this she does. In this light, The Legend of Rita can claim something like a happy ending.

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