Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Rainer Werner Fassbinder

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Love is Colder than Death Review


Weak
Werner Fassbinder's first feature.

And with it -- a black and white gangster flick -- Fassbinder creates the least eventful crime movie ever, with a trio of bumbling crooks conning and killing their way to -- well, not quite infamy, but somewhere above obscurity.

Continue reading: Love is Colder than Death Review

The American Soldier Review


OK
Oddly enough, The American Soldier is not about a war hero. It's not even about an American.

Rainer Fassbinder's Soldier is one of his most straightforward works, but oddly it's one of his most cryptic as well. Right off the bat, Fassbinder introduces us to his black-and-white underground world of crime, women, gambling, and what-have-you. From a five-minute, nearly worldless, scene of a high-stakes poker game (complete with hardcore-pornographic playing cards) we are immersed in a noir-infused atmosphere.

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In a Year with 13 Moons Review


Weak
Often hailed as one of Fassbinder's best films, I find In a Year with 13 Moons one of his most obvious and least meaningful works. In this film, Fassbinder offers the (lengthy) story of a gay man who is abruptly dumped by his lover -- who decides he now likes women. So he does what anyone would do, right? He gets a sex change to become that woman. Naturally, it doesn't take. Far-fetched and ultimately small, Fassbinder ties to put a metaphysical and cosmological wrapper arond all of this, leading to a very muddy experience.

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Martha Review


OK
Martha's (Margit Carstensen) father drops dead, then she's faced with a horrible marriage of abuse and Gaslight-class torture. Fassbinder offers up an extremely bleak work here, even for him, but ultimately the film works mainly as the diatribe against marriage that it is. The rail-thin and ghost-pale Carstensen doesn't really evoke sympathy; she's too freaking scary to make us wish for a happy ending.

Effi Briest Review


Grim
"It is strange, but much of my life can be described by the word 'almost'."

It's the most powerful sentiment in Fassbinder's Effi Briest, an uncharacteristic departure from his body of work: A black and white period piece about society and morality in 1880s Prussia.

Continue reading: Effi Briest Review

Love is Colder than Death Review


Weak
Warner Fassbinder's first feature.

And with it -- a black and white gangster flick -- Fassbinder creates the least eventful crime movie ever, with a trio of bumbling crooks conning and killing their way to -- well, not quite infamy, but somewhere above obscurity.

Continue reading: Love is Colder than Death Review

The Niklashausen Journey Review


Unbearable
Wow. Fassbinder made some bad movies, but did he ever make a bad movie with this one.

To the best of my understanding, here's what the movie is about. A man known as the "Black Monk" (Fassbinder, uncredited) suggests a shepherd launch a revolution among the lower classes after he claims to have been visited by the Virgin Mary and ordered to do so. The Black Monk suggests as well that dressing up his friend as Mary herself and parading her about might help her cause.

Continue reading: The Niklashausen Journey Review

The Merchant of Four Seasons Review


Good
Fassbinder's meditation on urban malaise is about as grim and hopeless as anything I've seen. Think American Beauty without the irony and relocated to a nondescript city in Germany.

The story follows Hans (Hans Hirschmüller), a fruit merchant who, with his taller and vaguely oppressive wife (Irm Hermann), lives a static and uninteresting life hawking plums and tomatoes from a cart. He hires a salesman but he cheats him. His woman won't even let him have an affair -- even though she's sleeping with the help. Eventually Hans tunes life out altogether, and at a grand family dinner, downs a few dozen shots of liquor, which promptly kills him on the spot.

Continue reading: The Merchant of Four Seasons Review

Katzelmacher Review


Excellent
Not much happens in Fassbinder's Katzelmacher (the title translates as Cock Artist), at least not until Fassbinder himself shows up to throw a wrench into things.

Those things are the empty lives of a group of Munich city-dwellers, a bunch of men and women roughly in their 30s who do nothing but sit on the sidewalk, smoke, and have sex with one another all day long. Fassbinder's Greek immigrant Jorgos mucks up the status quo when he moves in and takes up with one of the German women (Hanna Schygulla), throwing their slacker lifestyle out of its precarious balance. The local Germs do what any territory-protecting brood would do: They beat the crap out of him.

Continue reading: Katzelmacher Review

Fox and His Friends Review


OK
Rest assured, Fox doesn't really have any friends. But if you won the lottery, you'd probably find yourself surrounded by "friends" much like Fox is in this, a strange and depressing look into greed, naiveté, and the pain that invariably comes with wealth.

Rainer Fassbiner directs himself in the lead role of Fox, a light-headed loser employed as a "talking (decapitated) head" for the circus. Obsessed with the lottery, he doesn't quite know what to do with himself when he actually wins, but a gaggle of mostly-gay cronies who glom onto him soon after help out in that regard.

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Gods of the Plague Review


Grim
Gods of the Plague picks up right where Fassbinder's Love is Colder than Death leaves off -- literally -- as Franz (now played by Harry Baer) is released from prison for the deeds he performed in the prior film. He visits his best gal (still Hanna Schygulla), and with the guy who killed his brother (!), they plan to rob a supermarket (!!).

Glamour isn't exactly high on Franz or Fassbinder's list here. Love was a poor enough movie as it is, and Fassbinder has even worse luck here, in what I believe is the only sequel he ever made. With characters this dull and uninspired, why did he feel they needed to be revisited? Who can say?

Continue reading: Gods of the Plague Review

The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant Review


Terrible
Why is Petra crying? Probably because she had to sit through this piece of nonsense that poses as a movie, a complete misfire courtesy of Rainer Fassbinder.

Wildly overrated by film snobs and Fassbinder freaks, this adaptation of his play is a stone-cold bore and a waste of two hours. Our titular crybaby Petra (Margit Carstensen) is a wildly successful fashion designer, the kind who has the luxury of doing nothing but lolling around her apartment in improbably lingerie and impossible wigs. When she falls in love with one of her models (Hanna Shygulla, the wondrous star of Fassbinder's Marriage of Maria Braun), they embark on an exploitative love affair in Petra's apartment (with the model treated as the victim), where the entire film is shot. (In fact, it is shot with very few takes, just long and lazy sequences where we follow the characters from bed to table and back again. This is meant to make us identify with the cold and distant characters, but it comes off as gimmicky instead.)

Continue reading: The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant Review

Ali: Fear Eats The Soul Review


Extraordinary
One of Fassbinder's crown jewels, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul is as powerful as any film he ever made, despite its pedestrian premise.

In '70s Germany, fiftysomething Elli (Brigitte Mira) enters an ethnic bar to get out of the rain. Here she meets a young man named Ali (El Hedi ben Salem), a Moroccan guest worker with broken German language skills. A strange and unlikely friendship develops, then a romance. Within a few days, they're married.

Continue reading: Ali: Fear Eats The Soul Review

Fear Of Fear Review


OK
Would that I'd seen Fear of Fear before The Hours. Margot's (Margit Carstensen) story (at least at first) maps almost directly with Laura Brown's (Julianne Moore) from the latter film.

Here, pregnant Margot becomes convinced she's going insane when, a few weeks before her second child is born, she starts to develop a fear so overwhelming that her vision starts to freak out: blurring and wavering like she's looking across hot asphalt. We see the film largely through her eyes and can't help but feel the same way. As Margot seeks help for her problem, she turns to Valium, alcohol, and sex with the pharmacist. Her cold husband offers little help in any of this.

Continue reading: Fear Of Fear Review

Water Drops on Burning Rocks Review


Good
Four people are in a room dancing, Charlie's Angels style, fingers pointed like shooting guns and booties shaking. Heads bob up and down in time with the pop and fizz funk of the German record playing in the background.

Styled like a music video, we cut back and forth between all four of them swinging in sync with the rhythm and performing their individual motions with campy grandeur. After three or four minutes of this highly amusing, sexually charged romp and stomp in the living room, the middle aged businessman (obviously the leader of the group) abruptly turns off the record. "All right, that's enough. Everybody to the bedroom!" The women rush offscreen, giggling and squealing.

Continue reading: Water Drops on Burning Rocks Review

Rainer Werner Fassbinder

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