It may seem odd to accuse a film about anarchists of disorganization, but Barbara Teufel’s “Gallant Girls” fails hopelessly to create a viable narrative out of her late-’80s experience as a Berliner on the forefront of punk-political radicalism. Unfocused mix of archival footage, documentary interviews and underdeveloped dramatization ends up an awkward vanity project in which sole defined character — Teufel’s alter-ego heroine — is also the most annoying. Prospects outside Deutschland are poor.
Dreadlocked, pretty, heterosexual fraulein Bonnie (Jana Straulino) arrives from Black Forest regional activism in 1987 Kreutzberg, overcoming skepticism to win a place in an initially co-ed communal flat. Residents there are concerned, like much of Berlin’s then-vibrant anarchist/squatter scene, with opposing exploitative capitalist globalization repped by the International Monetary Fund — whose meeting is duly disrupted via street protests and direct actions.
Far-left’s solidarity is compromised, however, when women largely sever ties with men due to principled anti-patriarchy. Pic seems oblivious to the unflattering light cast on Bonnie when her own anti-male campaign is ignited by peevish response to a boyfriend’s infidelity. Her subsequent flirtation with lesbian identity is glibly presented in lifestyle-fantasy terms, the end of that single relationship dismissed in vague voiceover.
For lack of other characters with any depth, we seem meant to accept Bonnie as a sexy-cool young woman who’s “finding herself.” Instead, she comes off as a short-attention-spanned brat — especially when her new interest in film school leaves fellow female collectivists stuck paying the bills.
Preponderance of wobbly hand-held closeups amplifies pic’s claustrophobic feel, and lack of a genuinely felt social context. Thesps are mostly seen bickering over didactic or petty domestic points. To provide an air of rebellious “uplift,” Teufel returns repeatedly to rote slo-mo shots of seven punky “gallant girls” jubilantly leaping toward the camera in a musicvid style as hoary as the Monkees.
A decent docu might’ve been made from the interviews with reunited female and male (filmed separately) former comrades, combined with ample archival footage of protests, police violence, et al. also on display. But Teufel displays too little critical judgment even in use of these excerpts. The movement-moment’s own ideological and personal complexity ends up seeming a mere exercise in immature radical-chic.
Actors (as well as real-life participants) deserve better than they get here. Editorial presentation is a mess, but then there’s little evidence that helmer/scenarist shot material that could’ve been better salvaged. Tech aspects are barely adequate.