Bandits (1997) Movie Review

Bandits is a German movie about a rock band made up of 4 different women with only one thing in common — they’re all currently serving sentences in prison. The band is led by vocalist and anti-social Luna, a gifted magician and songwriter with aspirations of becoming a rock star; Angel, the flirtatious and happy-go-lucky bassist; Marie, the oldest member of the band, who plays keyboard between attempts to take her own life; and Emma, a new prison arrival who at first refuses to join the band, but eventual acquiesces to life in prison and becomes the band’s drummer.

If you think Bandits is just a German Chicks in Prison movie, you’d be wrong. The women are only in prison long enough for us to know their personalities before they’re suddenly on the run on the outside world. Their unexpected flight from prison is courtesy of a gig they’ve been scheduled to do on the outside world: ironically enough, a policeman’s ball!

In a funny sequence of events, as the women are making their escape in the parking lot of the policeman’s ball, a female politician up for re-election is making a speech at the podium inside the building about giving the women a second chance! When the politician asks a cop next to her what the band’s name is in order to introduce them, the cop shouts back, “Escape attempt!” meaning, of course, that an escape attempt is going on. The politician mistakes the cop’s warning for the band’s name!

It’s a hilarious scene, one that takes place moments after Luna has kicked the stuffing out of a prison guard who had slapped her, insulted the women one by one, and torn up a precious picture that is Marie’s only link to the outside world. Before the escape is cold, the cops sic a hotshot cop on the women’s trail. The cop is so cocky that he promises he’ll have the girls in custody again before his pack of cigarettes run out. “Bandits,” incidentally, is the band’s name.

Half of Bandits’ running time looks like a music video. Not in the sense that it’s shot in the fashion of a music video, although it does look like that in a way. It looks like a music video in the sense that, well, in-between the traditional scenes the women breaks into music videos, complete with instruments and vocals. Strangely enough, I found the music video interludes to be very entertaining. The songs are mostly in English and they’re, well, pretty good! Surprisingly so, actually.

The music videos doesn’t distract from the movie a bit, since every jump into a music video is integrated into the movie effortlessly, as in the women’s practice scenes in prison, or their music video for the TV cameras who forgets to include the women’s prison escape in their daily round-up of prison escapes, prompting the women to call the TV and arrange a meeting. As the women whines, why does the news only care about men escaping? Don’t they (the women escapees) matter?

In another ironic twist of fate (yes, this movie is full of ironies, as per its point) the women’s sudden fame as fugitives gets them a record deal with the same record company that had rejected them before. This, after attempting to swindle the women’s rights to their music for $50,000, and failing to do so, goes ahead and does it anyway. Just who is the real crook here? By now it should be clear that the movie is a social satire with a nice accompanying drumbeat.

Nothing in the movie is actually very realistic, unless German police are really this ineffective when it comes to hunting down 4 women escaping in one bright green van after another. As to point out how ineffective the cops are, the women makes their escape from, at first, a building full of cops and then a bar full of cops. Later on, the women are mobbed in a street by autograph seekers after the record executive releases their album and posters their mug shots all over town. The women and their fans breaks out into a choreographed dancing routine and once again escapes form an army of cops!

Director Garnier does a tremendous job with Bandits, managing to merge the unreal world of fame with the women’s personal trials and tribulations. Each women gets their fair share of background story, and by movie’s end, we feel that we know all of the intimately. The movie works as a surreal social commentary as well as a Chicks on the Run film.

Katja von Garnier (director) / Uwe Wilhelm, Katja von Garnier (screenplay)
CAST: Katja Riemann …. Emma
Jasmin Tabatabai …. Luna
Nicolette Krebitz …. Angel
Jutta Hoffmann …. Marie

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