This text was first published when the film hit theaters in 2021. We will publish it again for the free TV premiere.
Herbert von Karajan conducts the Berlin Philharmonic with jagged, authoritarian movements. A bombastic wind passage from Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 can be heard. All of the orchestra musicians seen in the picture are white and male. In between are shots of the most important politicians from the early years of the Bonn Republic – from Adenauer to Strauss. All men too. Already the beginning of Torsten Körners documentary “The Unyielding” makes it clear who was in charge in the early days of the Federal Republic of Germany – and not just at that time.
But it’s not about the men in this startling, long overdue cinematic journey through seventy years of political history. Körner dedicates his Movie the numerous female political pioneers of the Bonn Republic and lets them have their say in historical archive recordings and in current interviews that were conducted at their old workplaces. Because even if a woman has been at the top of German politics for sixteen years – the proportion of women in the Bundestag has fallen again after twenty years and is only 31 percent in 2021. This decline is largely due to the entry of the AfD into the Bundestag, which at just over ten percent has the lowest proportion of women of all parliamentary groups. An anti-feminist backlash?
“Power is perceived as unfeminine,” she says SPD politician Renate Schmidt in an interview. If you let Körner’s film sink in, you soon have the uncomfortable thought that nothing is really going on for the women. Are the battles that the protagonists have been fighting on the political stage for decades and the questions they had to put up with from journalists still the same as those that the Green Chancellor candidate Annalena Baerbock is confronted with today? How can one combine work and family and whether a woman is competent enough to govern a country? In 1961, for example, Elisabeth Schwarzhaupt (CDU), as Minister of Health, had to explain very politely in a television interview that the form of address “Frau Ministerin” was logical for her in the German language. There was just no female minister in the Federal Republic before her.
In retrospect, embarrassing truths are also revealed
In twelve chapters, the film spans an arc from the 1950s to reunification and shows moving moments of feminist achievements – including the struggles, difficulties and humiliations that politically active women were exposed to. “Indomitables” like Ursula Männle (CSU), Christa Nickels (Die Grünen), Ingrid Matthäus-Maier (FDP/SPD), Rita Süssmuth (CDU) and the aforementioned Renate Schmidt remember sexist attacks in the Bundestag and on journalists, which they did not take seriously, but also to the cross-party solidarity of the women among themselves. In retrospect, embarrassing truths about the country’s key decision-makers are uncovered and misogyny on the political stage is exposed.
Körner refrains from commenting and lets a few impressive archive finds speak for themselves, interspersed with static architectural shots of the empty government buildings in Bonn, which look like megalomaniac memorials. One follows the speech of Hildegard Hamm-Brücher (FDP), who rebelled against her own party leadership in 1982 in view of the vote of no confidence to overthrow Helmut Schmidt and spoke out in favor of new elections, or Waltraud Schoppe’s lecture from 1983 on the occasion of the discussion about the controversial abortion paragraph 218, in which the politician from the Greens campaigns for women’s right to self-determination and punishment for rape in marriage, and is then laughed at in the plenary session by the male colleagues and mocked as a witch. Shameful evidence of deep-seated sexism and male hegemonic behavior in the face of smart, quick-witted colleagues.
“The Unbreakable” shows all these impressively sovereign politicians and others, like Petra Kelly, in old excerpts. This makes it clear that there have always been courageous women who stood up for their opinions. By making these feminist role models visible, the film also changes the perspective on historical debates and events that have so far been heavily male-dominated. On the other hand, it is frightening to see that even after so many years of emancipation, certain topics keep coming back: A kind of “Me Too” discussion was held decades ago, as the incident involving Helga Schuchardt (FDP) shows, in which a male member of parliament tried to feel in the middle of the Bundestag whether she was wearing a bra because he had a bet in the CSU parliamentary group about it. In view of such encroachment, Schoppe’s provocative statement on the double-track NATO decision seems plausible: “We don’t need any new missiles. We need new men in this country.”
A female chancellor seemed unimaginable back then, remembers Christa Nickels from the Green Party: “If the choice had been between the best woman of all in the 1970s and a stupid August, then stupid August would have become chancellor.” Nevertheless, with Angela Merkel, the woman at the top has become a reality – and perhaps a little more natural in other areas as well.
“The Indomitables” concludes with recordings of the young conductor Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, who directs the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra with great physical exertion and long, flowing hair. The orchestra plays Beethoven’s Leonore Overture, and its line-up has become more diverse and female. Then you see how all the interviewees from the film line up for the class photo. Ursula Männle says that maybe in another quarter of a century the idea of equality between men and women will finally be anchored in people’s minds. Her words sound confident, but her hesitant expression says the opposite.
“The Indomitable”, Wednesday, March 8, 3sat, 8:15 p.m.