With our last foreign films for a while (I have decided to take a break from these intense movies for a while before I get into the extremely dense films of Ingmar Bergman) we are now in Germany with Rainer Werner Fassbinder. With forty films under his belt, he represents an immense influence on the New German Cinema that arose in the 1960s, much like a number of other film movements. Here, we only have 1/10th of his works, but hopefully Criterion will be releasing more soon.
#49. The Merchant of Four Seasons
Up first, a somber, bitter film about a man who is as big a loser as possible. His family does not take him seriously, his wife looks down on him (literally and figuratively) and his only means of income is peddling fruit. When he has a heart attack, things manage to completely shift around in his favor, but then his family starts to finally appreciate him, sending him into a deep depression.
The trajectory of Hans is painful to watch. He was a war veteran and a former policeman, yet that wasn’t enough to garner the respect of his family. He is a pitiful, often not even likable character, but for some reason we have sympathy for him as we see that not even his family will look on him with favor. It is a melancholy film up until its final moments when Hans finally loses it.
#51. The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant
A piercing film about a egotistical fashion designer, The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant is melodrama at its finest. Shot in only 6 scenes with extended takes, it follows Petra, who hardly cares for anyone else and mistreats her secretary on a daily basis, as she finds a love for Karin, a model. What follows is the fall of this relationship as jealousy, bitterness, and anger take over as the love triangle of sorts deals with the highly emotional aftermath.
The scenes are so rife with tension. Shot with long takes they seem to go on endlessly as we wait for some emotional outburst. Margit Carstersen is completely vile and cruel as Petra, almost–if not worse–than Meryl Streep in the Devil Wears Prada. She descends into alcohol, much like Hans from the previous film, and by the end we do not know what will happen, but we know it won’t be happy.
#52. World on a Wire
A bit of a changeup for Fassbinder who was primarily making melodramas at this point, World on a Wire is a sci-fi made for German television. It feels like an amalgam of all the sci-fi greats, like Kubrick and Dick, as what seems totally normal turns into a paranoid and feverish mystery.
Focusing on virtual reality and a system called Simulacron, World on a Wire feels like a neo-noir shot in the style of Kubrick with beautiful tracking shots, and the sort of sci-fi storytelling from the likes of Dick and Orwell. If this had been released in theaters at the time as opposed to being on TV, it might just be one of the greats that is overshadowed by everything else at the time in 1973.
#53. Ali: Fear Eats the Soul
Finally, an intimate and harsh film about the bitter reality of both ageism and racism. Playing off of Douglas Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows with the story of an older woman falling for a man about half her age, Fassbinder also infuses it with the racial tensions of Germany at the time.
Emmi is a widow of about 60 years old. On a fateful evening she finds herself in a random bar where she meets Ali, a Moroccan immigrant who is in his mid-thirties. As their romance blossoms, they are faced with racism, disagreeing family, and friends who start to shun them. It is heartbreakingly tender as we see the two deal with the cards they have been dealt, but also painful to watch the treatment of foreigners at the time.
Next up we will be going all the way to America where six films from some great directors like Chaplin, Altman, and Gilliam.