Rote Sonne (1970) is director Rudolf Thome’s reply to Godard’s romanticized films of political radicalism made from the mid-sixties until late in ’68. Thome’s purposefully lagubrious tone and ambling pacing satirizes the chic existentialism of the French New Wave, paving the way for the hip melancholy of Wim Wenders and Jim Jarmusch. Ironically, Wenders’ rather negative review of Rote Sonne has been employed in the marketing of its home video release.
Wenders compares Rote Sonne in a 1970 review for Filmkritik to the serialized comic strips in newspapers. Wenders points out that each sequence in Rote Sonne contains some low stakes drama that, as a whole, amounts to very little. What Wenders doesn’t acknowledge is that this structure (or lack thereof) is a purposeful evocation on Thome’s part of the central protagonist Thomas (Marquard Bohm). Thomas, a lazy, contemplative drifter with little motivation, dictates the form of the film. If Rote Sonne feels like a collection of false starts and dead ends that is because that is who Thomas is.
The viewer witnesses and explores the radicalism of Thomas’ girlfriend Peggy (Uschi Obermaier) and her roommates (Sylvia Kekulé, Gaby Go, and Diana Körner) through Thomas’ eyes almost exclusively. In the few sequences where Peggy and her gang are seen separate from Thomas they are enacting violence on men or rehearsing for some other terrorist act. These politically subversive activities (shoplifting, bombing, assassinations, etc.) possess the same Brechtian self-awareness as La Chinoise (1967). Thome parodies Godard while simultaneously imitating his brand of satirical humor.
Rote Sonne has been called anti-feminist, anti-liberal, and anti-radicalism which is entirely fair. However, this view of the film overlooks the cumulative nature of these political stances. More than anything, Rote Sonne is a film that is anti-extremism in all of its forms. Thomas, the audience surrogate, represents a kind of masculine conservatism that inevitably dies in the film at the hands of the leftist Peggy.
The final shoot out between Thomas and Peggy is the clearest statement of intent that Thome makes in Rote Sonne. The sequence, devoid of music, plays out in a mirror image of a Western movie observed on a television earlier in the film that has been slowed down. It’s a gun fight stripped of humanity and dramatic stakes wherein the characters function exclusively as archetypes; puppets caught in some tired old drama. The fact that the result of this battle is the deaths of the participants is the entire point of the film.
This formally subversive climax that operates solely as metaphor reveals the influence of Luc Moullet on Thome. Unlike other New German Cinema auteurs, Rudolf Thome’s style is generally slighter and more playful. Despite a mutual fetishization of Jean-Luc Godard, Rudolf Thome has little in common with Rainer Werner Fassbinder aesthetically and is actually more akin to the exuberant stylizations of Helma Sanders-Brahms. Thome’s film reveals a certain delight in the making of the film that is so rare in the often dour films of the New German Cinema.