Thomas is a drifter and a layabout who spends his time travelling around Germany bumming cigarettes and drinking. While on one of his adventures he decides to visit Salzburg to see his on-and-off girlfriend Peggy and ends up moving in with her, despite her protests.
She lives with three other women and they all appear to go out with various men, but only for a short time; something Thomas doesn’t notice until someone shows him the local newspaper, which has the face of one of the men on the back page saying he’s been reported missing. While initially shrugging it off, he begins to notice strange things with Peggy and her friends and starts to wonder if he might be next on the chopping block.
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Red Sun is a fascinatingly odd creature, like a Fassbinder take on a teen slasher. This is unsurprising considering director Rudolf Thome was part of the same New German Cinema that birthed the likes of Fassbinder, Wim Wenders, and Werner Herzog, albeit an unknown quantity to most in comparison. Thome’s film is as you would imagine – very naturalistic in its acting and artifice, almost casual and laconic.
Indeed, it’s an interesting take on an almost fairytale-like set-up; appropriate given Germany as the home of Grimm’s fairy tales. What unfolds is a tale of values inside the relationship of Peggy and Thomas. There’s little judgement on what the women are doing – if anything, the film sides with them – but more about whether or not Peggy can go through with what she needs to do. Does she love Thomas? Does her devotion to him outweigh her loyalty to her friends?
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The picture is happy to let the audience decide this by themselves, with the narrative playing out on an almost western note, with Thomas as the final girl if you want to frame it in more simplified terms (even though the slasher had not been invented at the time the film was made). The characters are fairly broad, which is probably what led Wenders to compare it to a comic strip, but any more depth and you’d lose a lot of space; it would suffocate. It’s also provocative in its depiction of women and their guile, using sex to gain not only physical and psychological power over men but also financial. Again, there’s no real judgement, just a sliver of protest from a character whose role it is to do that.
Radiance has given Red Sun a worldwide Blu-ray debut with a new high-definition transfer supervised by Thome that looks and sounds fantastic, with the film having a wonderfully immersive soundscape that includes classical needle-drops by Jean Sibelius and Remo Giazotto. The disc also includes an audio commentary by Thome and Rainer Langhans, who inspired the picture and was the boyfriend of Uschi Obermaier, who played Peggy.
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Two excellent video pieces also feature; ‘Rote Sonne between Pop Sensibility and Social Critique’, which is a visual essay by Johannes von Moltke that looks at the film and its themes and context, and ‘From Oberhausen to the Fall of the Wall’, a lengthy piece by Margaret Deriaz that examines the New German Cinema throughout its life.
Red Sun is a fascinating and entertaining piece of German cinema. It’s witty, daring, and reminds us that every thing we think of doing has already been done by previous generations. An excellent release.