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2 reviews, 3 user ratings

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Legend of Rita, The
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by Thom

"Complex story of an idealistic woman and the forces of history."
4 stars

During the 80's, German Terrorists were some of the most violent and active terrorist groups on the planet. The Legend of Rita is about a group of terrorists who defected from West Germany and were unofficially harbored by the East German government and given new identities to escape capture in the West.

The story is based on real events but is not a true story in that the film is a composite the director painstakingly put together through research and prison interviews with those who were captured after the fall of the Berlin wall.

The film begins with a focus on the group of young terrorists, all in their early twenties but soon attention is paid almost exclusively to Rita. Rita joined the idealistic group because she had a crush on its then leader. Their stated purpose was to liberate capital and educate the West about the principles of Eastern Socialism.

In one establishing shot at the beginning of the film, they are shown robbing a bank and promptly stuffing the money that is handed over to them into the hands and purses of the bank patrons while they explain their intentions to liberate capital. Later, Rita walks past a drunk man on the sidewalk begging for spare change. She empties her bag of a flood of coins and walks cheerily away.

Rita never loses her conviction after repatriating to the East where she discovers that many East Germans do not feel liberated by the marvelous social experiment of Socialism. Her overweaning zeal alienates her from her struggling compatriots who see only repression and censor. She makes one new friend. A kind of East German punk who wants to escape the East and can not understand why anyone would intentionally move from the West.

Rita's story becomes complicated when her identity is discovered through a West German news story about her former lover and another member of the group who were killed trying to run the border to West Germany. She contacts her friends in the East German secret service, the Stasi and he arranges a new "legend" for her. The title of the film comes from the the scenes where Rita must learn her new life story, her "legend".

She is assigned a job as a coastal recreation area life guard. An extremely cushy job compared to the factory work she was formerly assigned. There she falls in love with a young, attractive life guard who she must ultimately walk away from.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the West demanded that the East hand over wanted terrorists. Rita is now on her own and must try to escape without capture. Leaving the country may not be easy because every road into and out of the East has an armed police checkpoint.

Sometimes like a documentary, sometimes like a feature, The Legend of Rita is never boring. It is an intriguing story in that what it portrays actually happened and yet it is the almost unbelievable stuff of international espionage action/adventure flicks. If Jamie Lee Curtis played Rita and Arnold Schwarzenegger played the Stasi contact then no doubt The Legend of Rita would be a blockbuster bombs and boobs flick. The film was intentionally cast with German unknowns to keep the story closer to earth and farther away from the glitter machine of a star's career. It is easier to identify with the story without being distracted by the principal actors. This is not always the best strategy but in The Legend of Rita the focus on story rather than star power was a wise choice.

Unlike your typical action film with their normally tight, economical structure , The Legend of Rita is more episodic and wanders back into itself time and again. In this way, we learn what happens to her former friends after they assume their new identities and what happens to them after the fall of the Berlin wall. The film is not didactic and doesn't make a case for either Western or Eastern society. The decidely hands off approach just told what happened and lets the viewers shift their allegience where they say fit. Was Rita a hero or deluded? That is up to us to decide.

This film is, admittedly, dry. But I found it easy to watch and interesting from moment to moment as the facts were unveiled along with the profound moments in history that shaped individual destinies.

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originally posted: 03/12/01 12:13:00
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User Comments

6/14/04 Jairo Viafara Serious and compelling of one of the most dramatic times in German history. 5 stars
12/31/01 Marion Delgado Riveting performance. Excellent job. 5 stars
6/13/01 John Woodward Incredible Film! Schloendorff's best! 5 stars
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