×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘In the Dark Room’

Nadav Schirman's flattened-out portrait of Carlos the Jackal's wife proves more indirectly revelatory than immediately engrossing.

With:

Magdalena Kopp, Rosa Kopp, Gerd Schnepel, Hans Joachim Klein, Gerda Gunther, Bassam Abu Sharif, Wilheim Dietl.

Paradoxically, by choosing as his subject the revolutionist wife of uber-terrorist Carlos the Jackal, Israeli documentarian Nadav Schirman emerges with a flattened-out portrait of a docile, unemancipated spouse heedlessly following her man. Magdalena Kopp, once an active member of an explosive 60s/70s German terrorist cell, here stares directly into the camera in the red light of a darkroom, looking back with regret and passivity, unable to comprehend her choices or, like those of an earlier German generation, to think, see or remember beyond her own guilt or innocence. This curious historical footnote proves more indirectly revelatory than immediately engrossing.

Kopp’s dry recitation reveals remarkably little about her youthful ideals or aspirations, beyond her alienation from her bourgeois innkeeper parents and a feeling that her Bavarian hometown was “too small” to fit her self-image. She does wax poetic about her first lover, Michel, who brought her to Berlin and was himself politically engaged. Even her supposed passion for photography, in the judgment of interviewed sister Gerda, reflected Michel’s vision of her rather than any inherent artistic calling. Indeed, though the darkroom setting provides helmer Schirman with a neat way to dramatize extant photographs, Kopp apparently limited herself to forging passport pictures.

But Kopp’s is not the only voice heard in Schirman’s film. Left-wing bookseller Gerd Schnepel and a surviving member of the revolutionary cell, turncoat Hans Joachim Klein, satisfactorily evoke the emotional context of the period so remarkably absent in Kopp’s self-involved account. Schnepel quietly laments his generation’s defeated fight against injustice and mourns his dead comrades, killed in the El Al hijacking that ended in Entebbe. Meanwhile, a disillusioned Klein, gesticulating wildly, waxes indignant about the group’s wrongheaded direction; he is horrified by the notion of Germans fingering Jews for extermination in the hijacking and labels Kopp’s published memoir of her years with Carlos a “fairy tale.” If Kopp maps out a perfect blueprint of repression and denial, Schnepel and Klein supply alternate glimpses into the passionate commitment of the radical German Left in the ’70s.

Popular on Variety

About two-thirds into the film, helmer Schirman switches focus, introducing a second protagonist, Rosa, daughter of Kopp and Carlos. Mother and child rhapsodize about their close relationship. Not entirely buying Magdalena’s version of her father, however, Rosa undertakes a pilgrimage. First she travels to Jericho to meet with PLO activist Bassam Abu Sharif, who regards the young Carlos as a committed freedom fighter. Then she disappears behind the closed door of a Paris prison to meet with Carlos himself, a man she hasn’t seen since she was 5. But with Rosa, as with Magdalena, questioning only brings confusion. In the absence of any broader political context beyond personal guilt or innocence, German history again remains a moral enigma.

Schirman’s use of various styles and cinematic formats to match archival footage and evoke the periods spanned by his subject might have been more effective if Kopp’s reminiscences of the various stages of her life were less uniformly gray.

Film Review: 'In the Dark Room'

Reviewed at New York Film Festival (Motion Portraits), Sept. 30, 2013. Running time: 87 MIN.

Production:

(Documentary — Germany-Israel-Finland-Romania-Italy) A Pandora Film production in association with July August Prods., First Floor Prods., FLS Filmproduktion, Hi Film Prod., Palomar, in co-production with ZDF/Arte, Yes Television, YLE Documentaries, with the participation of HBO Romania. (International sales: the Match Factory, Cologne, Germany.) Produced by Karl Baumgartner, Stephen Limbach. Co-producers, Eilon Ratzkovsky, Yossi Uzrad, Guy Jacoel, Pauli Pentti, Ada Solomon, Carlo Degli Esposito.

Crew:

Directed, written by Nadav Schirman. Camera (color, HD, 16mm), Tuomo Hutri; editor, Joelle Alexis; music, Lasse Enersen; production designer, Stephanie Brenner; visual effects/sound, Andre Zacher.

With:

Magdalena Kopp, Rosa Kopp, Gerd Schnepel, Hans Joachim Klein, Gerda Gunther, Bassam Abu Sharif, Wilheim Dietl.

More Film

  • Better-Days

    Macao: Hot Bets, Short Odds And Sure Things in the 2019 IFFAM Program

    Macao may be renowned for gambling, but the 4th International Film Festival & Awards of Macao (IFFAM) features more than a few sure bets. Oscar-watchers should look out for Taika Waititi’s opening film “Jojo Rabbit”; Rupert Goold’s biopic of Judy Garland, “Judy,” which looks likely to land Renée Zellweger a best actress nomination; and Terrence [...]

  • Yao Chen in “Send Me to

    'Clouds' Director Teng Congcong on Being a Conservative Chinese Feminist

    As hot money flees the China film market and financing dries up, the romantic film genre will actually become more attractive for investors, assesses Teng Congcong, director of the recent Chinese romantic drama “Send Me To the Clouds.” “Things used to be moving in the direction of big budget blockbusters, but the financing that’s leftover [...]

  • I'm Livin' It

    Films From Macau and China Take the IFFAM Spotlight

    The fourth edition of the International Film Festival & Awards Macao (IFFAM), which opened last night (December 5) at the Macao Cultural Center, is positioned as one of the key events celebrating the 20th anniversary of the handover of the former Portuguese colony to the People’s Republic of China. Five Macanese features are among the [...]

  • Grand Isle

    Film Review: 'Grand Isle'

    A sub-Tennessee Williams potboiler triangle between restless sexpot, impotent husband, and hunky handyman ever-so-slowly congeals into a lumpy gumbo of thriller elements in “Grand Isle.” This third directorial big-screen feature for veteran Steadicam operator Stephen S. Campanelli has plenty of potential guilty-pleasure signifiers — not least being top-billed Nicolas Cage’s sixth vehicle this year — [...]

  • Nour-Eddine Lakhmari on Documentary 'Turn the

    Moroccan Director Nour-Eddine Lakhmari on Documentary 'Turn the Light On,' and New Feature

    Moroccan director Nour-Eddine Lakhmari – whose trilogy of films, “Casanegra,” “Zero” and “Burnout,” were major local hits – is completing a documentary for the Marrakech Film Festival Foundation, entitled “Turn the Light On,” about the Foundation’s medical-social campaign, that provides free cataract surgery treatment. The campaign is organized in partnership with the Ministry of Health [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content