Four femme jailbirds make music on the run in "Bandits," a sassy comedy-drama with a deafening soundtrack that has enough energy to light a city. By turns tough, romantic, grungy and exuberant, this first full-lengther by Katja von Garnier (whose 1993 featurette "Making Up!" was an early signal of the current German revival) was a summer hit with local auds but will be a difficult sale outside Teutonic territories.

Four femme jailbirds make music on the run in “Bandits,” a sassy comedy-drama with a deafening soundtrack that has enough energy to light a city. By turns tough, romantic, grungy and exuberant, this first full-lengther by Katja von Garnier (whose 1993 featurette “Making Up!” was an early signal of the current German revival) was a summer hit with local auds but will be a difficult sale outside Teutonic territories. Slickly put together and unashamedly commercial, it’s more likely to go the tube route overseas than into arthouses, especially given buyers’ continuing reluctance toward German product.

Group comprises taciturn, hard-as-nails Emma (Katja Riemann); lanky Luna (Jasmin Tabatabai), who has a particularly violent temper; babe-acious Angel (Nicolette Krebitz); and older, married Marie (Jutta Hoffmann). Early scenes set in the women’s prison, where music is their only release, are hard and gritty. Pic starts to hit its upbeat, more freewheeling stride when the quartet, under the moniker Bandits (a combo of Band and Tits), bust out during a policeman’s ball and head north to retrieve money Angel previously buried, then escape via ship to South America.

Similar to “Fame,” the movie is more a musical film than a standard musical, with numbers (propulsively shot in MTV style) either heard on the soundtrack as the women goof around or performed in impromptu gigs on the road. A plot of sorts gradually emerges as the women become cult heroines — thanks to a greedy record company playing their songs on the radio — and the cops close in on them as they near the port of Hamburg. Final reel is both genuinely exhilarating (with the women pounding rooftop drums in an impromptu final “concert” for their adoring fans) and completely over-the-top (as they make their final dash to freedom).

Von Garnier juggles a bunch of moods, and several genres, with skill, switching from wild, on-the-lam escapades to introspective moments as the women ponder their lives and the irony of not being able to enjoy the fame they’ve always craved. It’s also a sexy and funny movie, with the figure of a handsome young American (Werner Schreyer) they’ve taken “hostage” providing some sport, and an egomaniacal cop (Hannes Jaenicke) and his hot blond assistant lending some humor.

In an uncustomarily tough role, the terrific Riemann lends some dramatic ballast to the proceedings, and is nicely balanced by the younger Tabatabai (formerly a singer in the band Even Cowgirls Gets the Blues) as the lead guitarist-singer. All four women show real screen chemistry, and von Garnier’s direction milks their combined energy to the full. Technical credits are tiptop in all departments.

Bandits

German

Production

A Buena Vista Intl. (Germany) release (in Germany) of an Olga Film/Vela-X production, in association with Pro-7 (Germany) and Flach Film (France). (International sales: Bavaria Film Intl., Geiselgasteig, Germany.) Produced by Harry Kuegler, Molly von Fuerstenberg, Elvira Senft. Directed by Katja von Garnier. Screenplay, Uwe Wilhelm, von Garnier, based on an idea by Ben Taylor, von Garnier.

Crew

Camera (color), Torsten Breuer; editor, Hans Funck; music, Peter Weihe, Udo Arndt, Volker Grippenstroh; art direction, Susann Bieling; costume design, Claudia Bobsin; sound (Dolby Digital), Michael Hinreier; assistant director, Sebastian Fahr; casting, Sabine Schroth. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Discovery), Sept. 11, 1997. (Also in San Sebastian Film Festival.) Running time: 112 MIN.

With

Emma Moor - Katja Riemann Luna - Jasmin Tabatabai Angel - Nicolette Krebitz Marie - Jutta Hoffmann Inspector Schwarz - Hannes Jaenicke West - Werner Schreyer Gold - Peter Sattmann Ludwig - Andrea Sawatzki Schneider - Oliver Hasenfratz
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