The Social Democratic party was originally founded as the political arm of German Marxism. Extremely successful in mobilizing support in the working class, it was almost from the first torn by a question it never successfully resolved. Was the purpose of the party to advance the cause of the working class through legal, democratic means, or as it simply to represent those interests as best it could until capitalism collapsed from its contradictions and gave way to socialism? This debate continued more or less up until the defining moment for European socialism, the outbreak of World War I, and it is this context that ROSA LUXEMBURG dramatizes. The right-wing of the party, which believed in legal means, like their counterparts across Europe sided with their national governments and voted in favor of war. These right wing socialists were also entrusted with leading the German state after the Armistice.
They are the ancestors of the modern Social Democratic party now leading Germany. Left-wing social democrats, like Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, opposed the war and were imprisoned for their beliefs. At the end of the war, Luxemburg and Liebknecht jointly opposed the new Republic with the left-wing Sparticist group, which evolved into the German Communist party. Although highly critical of the right-wing social democratic government, Luxemburg, (who identally was Polish), was equally wary of left wing extremism. She frequently criticized the tactics and policies of Leninism and the Bolsheviks, for example. It is unclear what path her politics might have taken if she and Liebknecht had not been martyred by members of the notorious Freikorps. (A group of unemployed, footloose soldiers and thugs, many of whom eventually drifted into National Socialism.)
The film does a reasonably good job of encapsulating Luxemburg’s complex theories. All the political ideas are pretty much reduced to Headlines spoken by Big Names (Luxemburg, Karl Kautsky, August Bebel, Carl Bernstein, et. al.), but the film does give you a sense of the range of opinion represented on the left at the time. Thus your opinion of ROSA LXUEMBRUG is less likely to stand or fall on your sympathy with the politics than with whether or not you believe a biography of a major political figure is enriched or cheapened by a heavy attention to her love affairs. Personally, I would prefer more politics, but the affairs are a price worth paying for a decently serious big budget film about a controversial figure.
Aside from a needlessly convoluted time structure, the filmmaking is smooth, quietly restrained throughout. Statuesque, blonde Barbara Sukowa is completely compelling as the short, dark-haried (Jewish) Luxemburg. The film isn’t above a little melodrama: the opponents to social democracy for example are at best prigs, at worst sadistic brutes, but there’s a lot of sophisticated filmmaking too, especially in the chillingly precise concluding sequences. (Amazon.com review)