Part political thriller and part character-driven drama, the 1978 German film A Knife in the Head is difficult to pin down. It doesn’t adhere to a traditional narrative structure and the film’s themes are directly tied to a specific time and place. For those familiar with the politics and history of the country during this period, A Knife in the Head may be easier to understand, but there is also an ambiguity to the plot that may be off-putting for some. Even though I appreciated dissecting and analyzing the film, the lack of resolution made the viewing experience slightly unfulfilling.
When a biogeneticist named Berthold Hoffmann (Bruno Ganz) is caught in the middle of police raid while trying to visit his wife Ann (Angela Winkler) at the left-wing social center she runs. After he is shot in the head by a police officer, Ganz is left with brain damage and a long road to recovery. This condition reveals the issues with his marriage and Ann’s involvement with a revolutionary named Volker (Heinz Hoenig), and he also becomes entangled in an effort by the police and media to paint him as a possible terrorist.
Whether there is truth behind these claims or if it is merely a story created to cover up mistakes made by the police is kept somewhat ambiguous at first, especially since Hoffman is initially unable to defend himself. The journey Hoffman takes to recovery coincides with his efforts to discover what happened the night of the incident, which he has no memory after suffering brain damage. Simultaneously, Hoffman attempts to discover the status of his relationship with Ann and whether there is any chance of repairing their marriage.
Defying classification is what makes A Knife in the Head an interesting view. There is drama, suspense, and even a little bit of humor. It is somewhat of a puzzle, and not just because there is a mystery at the center of the narrative. At the same time, it is atypical in the presentation of all these elements, and especially the resolution. This may be challenging for those looking for a more traditional narrative structure.
The Blu-ray release contains a high-definition presentation of a new 4K restoration of the film. In additional to the polished new home entertainment presentation of the film, the disc comes with interviews with the filmmakers in the special features. There is an interview with director Reinhard Hauff, as well as one with executive producer Eberhard Junkersdorf. Trailers for the film are also included in the extras.
Entertainment Value: 6/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 8/10
Historical Significance: 6/10
Special Features: 5/10