In its quest for cinema preservation, boutique distributor Radiance Films has released onto Blu-ray such films as Kōsaku Yamashita’s Big Time Gambling Boss (1968), Luigi Comencini’s The Sunday Woman (1975), Todd Solondz’s Welcome to the Doll House (1995), and Amy Seimetz’s She Dies Tomorrow (2020), among many others already released and still to come. These films run the gamut from art house to yakuza, darkly comic to cosmic horror, and first-time physical release to total restoration, widely known to deep niche. The latest to join the collection is Rudolf Thome’s Red Sun (Rote Sonne), a crime drama exploring the socio-political period of late ‘60s from a German perspective involving an opportunistic male lead who steps into a honey trap. Considered as an under-seen portion of Thome’s catalogue, Red Sun is being offered by Radiance Films in a first-time physical release in the United States in a limited-edition package that offers a chance to explore the film like never before.
On a late night, hitchhiking Thomas (Marquard Bohm) just so happens to be dropped off near a bar in Munich where his ex-girlfriend Peggy (Uschi Obermaier) works as a bartender. With him having no place else to go, she agrees to bring him home to the apartment she shares with three other women. At first, this seems like an opportunity for Thomas to patch things up with the girl he stupidly let get away, with the main difficulty being overcoming who they are now. But what he doesn’t realize is Peggy and her roommates live by a specific screed: no man is allowed to stay with them for longer than five days. Worse yet, they don’t just break up with them, they kill them. Will Thomas survive or will he end up just another victim to add to their tally?
There’s an impressive cinematic approach to Red Sun that strikes you from the moment the film begins. In the opening shot, a series of lights are in the distance, presented in the top left of the screen, the light bending as if moving, until we realize that they are headlamps of vehicles and we are viewing them as though turned around in the front seat of a car looking through the back window. This is confirmed when Thomas sits up to talk with an unseen driver, the latter complaining about having picked him up because he wanted company to stay awake. In this brief sequence, cinematographer Bernd Fiedler (Pharos of Chaos) conveys the mood of the film, that we are, to a degree, voyeurs of what’s to happen rather than being attached. We are passengers to Red Sun and this holds even through the end of the film, us having gotten to know Thomas, Peggy, or any of the other characters on any kind of deep manner. This isn’t to suggest that we can’t make inferences based on what we observe, it’s that we can’t speak with any conviction as to the choices that are made within the runtime. Considering that the central women of the story are killers of men, one might think that we’d learn more about their perspectives or intentions OR that since our story begins with Thomas, we might somehow understand his view, yet we grow no closer to anywhere we can make any kind of clear declaration of understanding.
While this might frustrate audiences looking for the film to make a statement, I think it’s far more interesting to allow for the audience to fill the negative space with their own politics and intentions. In this way, Thomas is an absolute piece of shit who seems to glob onto whomever he can and take what he can, though this doesn’t translate to womanizing, even when faced with opportunities, as he remains loyal to Peggy from the moment they reconnect. If Thomas does die by the end, would it be such a terrible thing considering all his talk of contributing, of paying his way, and, instead, just takes more and more. On the other side of the coin, the men that the roommates spend time with are also douche bags, making a presumption of what’s deserved of them from these women. One such man refuses to believe that his date isn’t home yet, pseudo-barges his way in, and then makes demands of what is put on television as if he lives there versus being a guest. The concept of ownership over another is explored explicitly and subtly with arguments over upholding, reconfiguring, and out-right destroying the current social-systems as they relate to men and women. The film never once seems to make its own opinion known, preferring to allow us to watch and, as though observing in secret, declaring for ourselves what’s real, what’s worth keeping, and whether there’s any merit to the destruction of a system that upholds male dominance. If there is an idea worth considering, it’s whether or not the lengths the women go to are too far in their quest for equity. Is the line they cross fair game when one recognizes the generations of women that have been sacrificed for male benefit? Or is it a bridge too far as the murder of less-than-innocent men is too much for their crimes and doesn’t necessarily address the problems with a workable solution? Based on what we learn in the film, I read it as revenge of a specific nature turned broader and, as a result, losing its political power in the process. Shitty men deserve their comeuppance without equivocation, but will this approach effect social change or just keep them busy?
Look to the next paragraph for details on the packaging and included materials, as the following will focus on the restoration itself. According to the liner notes, the 2K restoration for Red Sun was made using an original camera negative at Cinegrell Postfactory, with additional work completed by Radiance in 2022 to remove dirt and scratches. It’s unclear as to when the 2K restoration was made from the negative, but Thome did oversee the creation and he’s still with us, so I presume this was a recent endeavor. What is evident is the clarity in picture and sound, especially when one compares against scenes posted online (such as the one in place of the trailer at the end of this review). The colors are more natural yet striking in composition and design, there’s beauty to behold even in the commission of murder, and there’s balance to the overall tones helping to convey realism when Peggy, Thomas, and the rest of the roommates are hanging out rather than awashing the audience with a cacophony of color. Though the audio is a monoaural track, the restoration work on it is clear and crisp with the volume being left alone once a comfortable setting is established. This may seem like a strange benchmark, but it demonstrates delicate leveling that one doesn’t have to adjust or adapt to during the watch which enhances one’s ability to give their full attention to the narrative. Both the visual and auditory experience are absent the kind of wear and tear one would expect from a 1970 release, made all the more clear when one checks out any unrestored footage.
Once more, Radiance Films demonstrates that they are on their own level when it comes to physical releases. Appealing to owners who enjoy a stickerless experience, Radience continues with the option of removing the OBI strip detailing all of the release info so that all that remains is either of the covers (English or German, though the information is present on the German side). The clear plastic case allows for the artwork on whichever side is inside to be visible and enjoyed. The essay is the expected weighty booklet containing materials new and old, all while giving an additional physical textual experience to owning the film. I like the design of this booklet as it’s peppered with pristine images from the film, some of which are accompanied by dates and other relevant information, as well as smartly formatted to make reading it comfortable. Considering that there’s one new essay from film historian Samm Deighan, as well as archived materials newly translated and the restoration information, being comfortable as one explores the behind the scenes of the making of Red Sun is critical. One lovely addition that I haven’t noticed in prior releases, on page 50 is a section titled “Recommended Reading” with a suggestion on what and where to go to find more writing on the film. My favorite thing about releases from places like Radiance, Criterion, Arrow, 88 Films, Kino Lorber, Vinegar Syndrome, and other is their preservation of cinema and using space to point viewers to other places so as to extend their knowledge base.
The on-disc features are three-fold: a feature-length commentary track between Thome and Rainer Langhans (inspiration for the film & Obermaier’s boyfriend), a November 2022 50-minute visual essay from academic and programmer Margaret Deriaz, and a November 2022 21-minute visual essay from scholar Johannes von Moltke. The visual essays offer their own unique perspectives and deep dives into the film via various social, cultural, and political lens. These are fascination interpretations that offer a different way to read the film. If you want to hear from the creator directly, the feature commentary is where you want to go. What’s intriguing about this (compared to other commentary tracks) is that it’s designed so you can either watch the film in its entirety listening to Thome and Langhans chat *or* you can select from one of 11 starting points marked by the conversation being had, not necessarily a specific scene in the film.
Between the on-disc materials, the packaging, and materials, Radiance Films has once more put together a release that will have cinephiles delighted and confident in their selection. Whether you’ve seen Red Sun before or not, this one is an easy recommend.
Red Sun Special Features:
- High-definition digital transfer overseen by director Rudolf Thome
- Select scene commentary with Thome and Rainer Langhans, Obermaier’s boyfriend and Kommune 1 member who served as inspiration for the film and was on set for the shoot
- Rote Sonne between Pop Sensibility and Social Critique – A newly produced visual essay by scholar Johannes von Moltke on Red Sun, which looks at the social and cultural influences on the film and provides context for the era in which it was made (2022, 21 mins)
- From Oberhausen to the Fall of the Wall: A visual essay by academic and programmer Margaret Deriaz tracing the development of the New German Cinema from the Oberhausen Manifesto to the fall of the Berlin wall (2023, 50 mins)
- Limited edition 52-page booklet featuring new writing on the film by Samm Deighan, newly translated archival letters by Wim Wenders, critic Enno Patalas and the German Film Evaluation Office on the film’s official submission, newly translated archival interview with Rudolf Thome and an overview reviews
- Limited edition of 2000 copies (each for the UK and US), presented in full-height Scanavo packaging with removable OBI strip leaving packaging free of certificates and markings
- Reversible sleeve featuring designs based on original posters
Available on Blu-ray June 20th, 2023.
For more information, head to the official Radiance Films Red Sun webpage.
To purchase, head to the official MVD Entertainment Group Red Sun webpage.