Coup de Grâce
Despite its modest claims, Volker Schlöndorff's twelfth film, Coup de Grâce (Der Fangschuss, 1976), can be considered a jewel among his creations. 1 This film brings the 1920s heritage to life, thanks to quilted jackets, frozen landscapes, impersonal firing squads, uniformed soldiers folk dancing at warravaged estates: images, sound, and texture evocative of revolutionary Russia (Grélier 70–71). In addition, actress Valeska Gert, 1920s exponent of avant-garde pantomime, expressionist dance, and women's liberation, graces the screen in one of her final performances. It marks, at the same time, Schlöndorff's return to and recapitulation of his own cinematic methods from Törless and Kombach. It presents Margarethe von Trotta, here also Schlöndorff's screenwriter, in some of her most convincing scenes as an actress. It carries on the portrayal of rebel women in the line of A Free Woman and Katharina Blum, though in more spartan visual style. In all its simplicity, this is a key work by a pivotal literary filmmaker of Young and New German cinemas (Cattini 103).
Coup de Grâce places the reader or viewer in conditions of near civil war that raged in the Baltic provinces near Riga in the early twenties, with a confusing array of alliances and coalitions, similar to that of Beirut in the 1980s or the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Radical Bolsheviks, Estonian and Latvian nationalists, German Junkers, and White Russians, as well as fortune hunters and volunteer militias, attack each other. One reactionary stronghold is the castle Kratovice, ancestral home of Konrad von Reval (Rüdiger Kirschstein), who returns as an officer and finds his sister Sophie (Margarethe von Trotta). She falls in love with his comrade Erich von Lhomond (Matthias Habich), also a childhood friend. She politically sympathizes with village Bolsheviks, and when Erich does not return her love, she moves to the communist camp. When her troop falls to Erich's unit, Sophie insists that he personally execute her.
This chapter introduces and provides critical exegesis of this less well known Schlöndorff film: how does it relate to its 1939 literary model, Coup de