Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Bandits

By Marjorie Baumgarten

OCTOBER 18, 1999: 

D: Katja von Garnier; with Katja Riemann, Jasmin Tabatabai, Nicolette Krebitz, Jutta Hoffmann, Hannes Jaenicke, Werner Schreyer, Andrea Sawatski. (R, 109 min.)

Achtung! This is one for the unruly girls everywhere. The electric choruses of "All Along the Watchtower" open this popular German movie and snap us to attention. There's a new band on the run and these gals take no prisoners. In fact, they are prisoners -- they're German women from the penitentiary and we've just landed in the middle of their band rehearsal. A watchful nun smiles benignly. She's right to smile, they do sound good in a garage-band kind of way, but, oh, it's so difficult to find a good drummer -- especially in this population. But then Emma (Riemann) joins the prison ranks and her drumming complements the music of Marie (Hoffmann), Angel (Krebitz), and Luna (Tabatabai), and thus the Bandits are born. The all-girl convict band is booked as the evening's politically correct entertainment at the local Policeman's Ball, but while being transported there, a guard becomes sexually abusive and the women make a spontaneous -- and successful -- break for freedom. From here the movie becomes a wild road adventure as a coke-snorting producer retrieves some tapes from the garbage the nun had sent him and, faster than you can say "overnight sensation," the Bandits are a national hit. They're media darlings and public enemies -- applauded and chased, cheered and vilified. One doesn't have to scratch too deeply to find outlines of Thelma & Louise here, but these German riot grrrls have more of a DIY aesthetic. Dig past the Thelma & Louise references and you'll find something even more exciting -- vestiges of Caged Heat, Jonathan Demme's first feature and the best women-in-prison movie to break the chains of incarceration and trade them in for the bonds of sisterhood. Much like Caged Heat, Bandits accomplishes this with humor and pointed social commentary -- and adds some kick-ass songs (many of them sung in English) to boot. Director von Garnier scored a major box-office success in 1993 with her short film "Making Up!," which played in German theatres for over a year and won numerous awards. Then Wolfgang Peterson invited her to film the "making-of" documentary about In the Line of Fire. With Bandits, von Garnier's talents will, hopefully, reach wider audiences. Unruly girls around the world are liable to find these Bandits stealing their hearts.

4 Stars

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