When fiercely independent college professor Olga (Schygulla) meets shy, emotionally fragile artist Ruth (Winkler), they form an immediate bond, seemingly based on the attraction of opposites. As their relationship deepens, Olga helps draw Ruth back into the real world, while Ruth's emotional need allows Olga to care for someone and feel necessary. Ruth's husband Franz (Striebeck) at first encourages the friendship but becomes jealous and threatened as the women's bond deepens. With the unstable Ruth as the locus of their attentions, these three form a triangle headed for a tragic end.
This frankly feminist work concerns two women who find more solace in each other than in the men in their lives — and pay the price for it. Still, Von Trotta avoids demonizing any of the characters in this rich, subtle psychological tale that probes the increasingly obsessive ties between Olga and Ruth. Beautifully shot by cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, this elegant, perceptive film never becomes overheated, thanks to the director's sure hand and the sublime performances of its two stars (with Schygulla a particular standout). It'd be "Madness" indeed to pass up this sadly overlooked gem.