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November 29, 2022

Knife in the Head

knife in head.jpg

Messer im Kopf
Reinhard Hauff - 1978
Cohen Media Group BD Region A

What I first found striking about Knife in the Head is that it is the first film I have seen that presented West Germany as a police state. The images of a police raid on what appear to be student activists, random checkpoints on the road, and surveillance cameras are all depicted as part of life in Munich, 1978. The implication is that for some citizens, there is only marginal difference on which part of Germany is home.

Bullet in the Head might be a more accurate title as the titular knife is one that is imagined. A scientist, known by everyone by his family name of Hoffman, goes to meet his wife, Ann. With a group of people at what is later identified as a youth center, Ann is being arrested. Hoffman runs into the small building. Hoffman is seen in a freeze frame with the sound of a gunshot. The actual event is the subject of conflicting descriptions. How Hoffman gets shot in the head is unclear. What is known is that he has brain damage causing him memory loss and lack of motor skills. Hoffman rebels against his sense of being an infant in the body of a adult male, and being the subject of gawking by some of the other patients due to newspaper reports depicting Hoffman as a political terrorist.

Even if the political aspects of Knife in the Head have lost their topicality, the film is still worth seeing due to the performance of Bruno Ganz as Hoffman. The depiction of physical and mental impairment and gradual, if partial, repair has been noted for its accuracy. In this regard, this is not a feel-good story about one man's victory overcoming adversity. Reinhard and screenwriter Peter Schneider are able to find humor in Hoffman's relearning simple words that offer brief breaks from the drama. Simultaneous to Hoffman's physical and mental recovery are his dealing with Ann's relationship with another man, and a dogged detective's insistence that Hoffman is faking his maladies and is guilty of stabbing a policeman in the raid.

While not as well known as his peer, Volker Schlondorff, Reinhold Hauff has a tangential connection with the New German Cinema. In addition to founding the production company Bioskop with Schlondorff, there is the casting of Bruno Ganz with Angela Winkler as Ann. Ganz is probably best known for Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire and his performance as Hitler in Downfall, while Angela Winkler had the title role in The Lost Honor of Katherine Blum in 1975, and was more recently more widely seen in recent version of Suspiria. The sparingly used music for the film was composed by Krautrock keyboardist Irmin Schmidt from the band Can. The blu-ray was sourced from a 2019 4K restoration. The two supplements are a 2007 interview with Reinhard Hauff where he discusses his working methods and work with his cinematographer and editor, and a 2008 interview with producer Eberhard Junkersdorf.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 29, 2022 07:42 AM