West German director Reinhard Hauff has been making films for years, without quite achieving the international status of such superstar cineastes as Fassbinder, Herzog, and Wenders. Now the situation is changing. His latest picture is intelligent and provocative, despite some visual excesses, and it has opened strongly in the United States.
The main character is an intellectual who has always stayed aloof from politics. While visiting his former wife -- a member of a radical group -- he is shot by a policemen. Later, suffering from amnesia, he attempts to recover his sense of selfhood and identity. Meanwhile, he must resist the rival factions who want to use him as a pawn: the police, trying to convince him he is a dangerous terrorist; and the radicals, portraying him as a helpless martyr.
Some scenes are blunt. There is a bit of sexual material, including a brief but explicit physical encounter, and medical details are graphically depicted. These portions of the film are objectionable enough to give any potential ticket-buyer serious pause, since the graphicness may easily offset the film's considerable artistic merit in many filmgoers' minds.
The film's thematic content is subtler than these offensive sections, however. Its meditations on the nature of identity are fascinating to trace, and it has a skepticism toward all forms of extremism. Hauff's style is heavy and occasionally obscure; he lacks the finesse of some of his fellow German directors. Yet he is an important talent -- especially when teamed with the gifted Bruno Ganz, who has many devastating moments in the main role.