Few film-makers wear their hearts as openly on their sleeves as Margarethe von Trotta, and her fascination with women (their relationships with each other and their definition – often redefinition – of themselves) is as apparent in this, her first solo feature, as it was in the later The German Sisters or Friends and Husbands. Christa Klages (Engel) is a young mother who turns terrorist and bank robber to prevent the closure of a crêche which she helps to run and her daughter attends. On the run with her friend and sometime lover, Christa is pursued by the police, and more mysteriously by a young woman (Thalbach) who was her hostage in the bank raid. What von Trotta has to say about her women is compelling, and she remains one of the few film-makers to portray terrorists convincingly. But the enigma of the hostage runs through the film as elusively as a character in a dream – vitally important at any given moment, but irritatingly meaningless when taken as a whole – and undermines the conviction of this feminist thriller which is otherwise so gloriously rooted in West Germany’s present.
From The NY Times (Vincent Canby):
“THE Second Awakening of Christa Klages,” which opens today at the Film Forum, is a very earnest movie about a young woman who, to finance her day-care center, robs a bank (with two male accomplices) and then finds that her associates at the center will not accept the stolen money.
It’s one of the curious things about this 1977 West German movie, the first to be directed by Margarethe von Trotta, that what happens to the money and, indeed, to the day-care center and the children, never seems very important. The bank robbery turns out to be less a means to an end than a theoretical gesture that, having been made, becomes its own reason for being.
Yet “The Second Awakening of Christa Klages” is a surprisingly involving sort of movie. Though it wanders, it wanders with a certain purpose, the way some intelligent people talk when they are trying to get a fix on complicated subjects. Miss von Trotta, who has collaborated on the screenplays for “A Free Woman” (in which she also acted), “Coup de Grace” and “The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum,” all directed by Volker Schlondorff, her husband, is a feminist of striking movie-making talent.
“Christa Klages” looks and sounds very sober, but it is full of odd associations and images that distinguish the work of a true film maker from that of a well-studied hack. It is never predictable. And while the plot is rather absurd, the film is emotionally and stylistically consistent.
Miss von Trotta has also cast her film nicely with Tina Engel, who suggests a young Hildegard Knef, as Christa, and Silvia Reize as Christa’s longtime friend, Ingrid. In secondary but no less effective roles are Marius Muller-Westernhagen, as an ex-seaman who accompanies Christa on her life of minicrime, and Peter Schneider as a young clergyman, a fellow who preaches the need for action but is unable to act in any unconventional way himself.
“The Second Awakening of Christa Klages” is a didactic film, but it is never smug in the manner of a film that knows all the answers. It’s mostly about uncertainty, and about the need to take risks and to make choices. In this sense, it’s more profoundly political than even the outraged “Katharina Blum,” which was based on the novel by Heinrich Böll and which never allowed the audience to think for itself.