Rosa Luxemburg (1986)

Rosa Luxemburg (1986)

“We live in times of violent change, ready to collapse.”

Socialist activist Rosa Luxemburg (Barbara Sukowa) campaigns for peace in the midst of impending war in Europe.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Biopics
  • German Films
  • Historical Drama
  • Revolutionaries
  • Strong Females

Those not already deeply interested in the political history of pre-WWI Europe may find it challenging to engage with this sincere but pedantic biopic of Rosa Luxemburg, a radical Polish Socialist who was assassinated by the ruling German party in 1919. Without concern for her childhood or past, the storyline plunges us immediately into the thick of Luxemburg’s post-doctorate political career, as we see her campaigning tirelessly with colleagues on behalf of The Cause. Given that the script is heavily based on Luxemburg’s writings and speeches, we get to hear a LOT of her thoughts on the need for worldwide revolution by the proletariat; while a bit of time is given over to speculations about her romantic life (in a nicely handled scene, for instance, we witness her gradual recognition that her lover and compatriot — Daniel Olbrychski — has betrayed her), in essence this film is all about Luxemburg the Socialist, who literally devoted her life to her beliefs. Sukowa effectively humanizes Luxemburg — watch her breaking into giddy smiles while giving passionate political speeches, for instance:

— turning her into a character we may not relate to but can certainly believe in. Yet neither Sukowa’s award-winning performance, nor the film’s overall quality production values, are enough to elevate it to must-see status — other than for those genuinely interested in this particular bit of world history.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Barbara Sukowa as “Bloody Rosa”
  • Fine period sets
  • Franz Rath’s cinematography

Must See?
No; this one isn’t must-see viewing for all film fanatics.


One thought on “Rosa Luxemburg (1986)

  1. First viewing. A once-must, for Sukowa’s marvelous performance, and its place in cinema and political history.

    I was very much gripped by this film, not finding it all that “pedantic”. It’s been noted, even by Luxemburg’s biographer, that it would have been quite difficult capturing Rosa effectively for the record. But I feel the film aims for a thorough-enough overview of who she was and what she stood for. …In many ways, what she had to say resonates now with our political situation here in the States.

    I won’t deny the film is a bit dense and challenging – but that’s not to say it’s at all dreary. The thanks for that go not only to Margarethe von Trotta’s exact and sensitive handling of the massive material but also to Sukowa’s masterful turn as Rosa (which won her the Best Actress honor at Cannes) – she is electric in the role and worthy of a watch.

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