Argentina (119 mi) 2012
Cannes 2012: Tim Roth – the Brit in the hot seat Demetrios Matheau at Cannes from The Arts Desk, May 18, 2012
Directed by Alejandro Fadel, it observes a group of teenage miscreants as they break out of a juvenile detention centre and escape into the surrounding wilderness. They seem to have a plan, to trek across the mountains to their ringleader’s godfather’s home, and sanctuary. But soon their various ill natures tear the group apart and it becomes a question of what will kill them first – nature, or each other.
There is barely any dialogue, while motivations and plot developments are often vague. Yet the images are sumptuous, and the brooding, malevolent tone absorbing. It would take a brave distributor to bring a film like this to Britain, but here’s hoping.
PEREIRA DECLARES (Sostiene Pereira) A- 94
aka: According to Pereira
This is another one of
those interconnecting stories of disconnected or lost souls whose lives
mysteriously intersect, almost like an act of fate, where an improbable impact
suddenly adds the missing ingredient in what are initially conceived as socially
challenged, over-analyzed characters.
Woody Allen may be the premiere director at superimposing his real life
nebbish personality into comedies of anxiety, where he often makes fun of his
various neuroses, as do many of his film characters, none better than Diane
Keaton and Mia Farrow. Swedish director
Karin Fahlén’s first feature film is a comedy where the common thread is
over-analysis, where characters spend way too much time thinking about
themselves, often with disastrous results.
While the Swedes have always had an unhealthy rivalry with neighboring
countries, especially the Danes, perhaps these characters have been overly
affected by Danish philosopher Søren Kierkagaard, as they all feel overwhelmed
by a deep case of existential despair. The
film originated from the 2007 collected short stories The Second Goal (Det andra målet) by writer/actor Jonas Karlsson, where a recurring theme is
isolated or lonely individuals, most of whom are trying to hide the fact that
they are alone. Adapted by the director,
she connects six of these characters together, creating a series of interwoven
stories that take place in and around
Much of this comedy
relies upon absurd humor, with dark underlying elements, where Stockholm is
often seen as a dark, foreboding place, often shot in overcast grays, though
overall a lighter tone prevails, making this ensemble comedy very audience
friendly. Perhaps the center of it all
is Johan (Martin Wallström), a delusional and manically obsessed would-be
writer trying to find his way out of his father’s footsteps, as his father was
a revered writer, but Johan tries to worm his way into the public’s eye through
nefarious means. His big theory relies
upon the removal of light, being plunged into darkness, thinking only then can
people really discover one another. Anna
(Julia Ragnarsson), Johan’s sister, is seen being indiscreetly thrown out of a
hotel by Thomas (Jonas Karlsson), an uptight, overly reserved guy who is more
of a bootlicker that lives to please his boss, Lena (Marie Richardson), the
Minister of Finance, usually eliminating problems through underhanded and
cruelly devised means. Meanwhile Douglas
(Filip Berg), is the stuttering trust fund child still living at home with his
sanity challenged parents, and secretly has a crush on Anna, who we discover is
the lesbian lover of
Overhearing one of her
coworkers talk about a gag they pulled years ago, Jessica points her finger to
a name at random in the phone book, and then mails that person an anonymous
letter, which turns out to be Thomas, who becomes rabidly obsessed with
receiving a letter from someone he doesn’t even know. Following her, literally stalking her,
cornering her at her apartment doorway, she refuses to acknowledge she sent the
letter, where briefly they are divided only by a pane of glass. Anna has been thrown out into the street and
is none too happy about it, but her pride coerces Lena to come clean about her
sexual preference with her husband, or she’ll tell him. Douglas, meanwhile, is his demented father’s
whipping boy, taking refuge with Anna, following her wherever she goes, as
neither one of them seems to have a friend in the entire world. Meanwhile, Johan is still on the loose, a
madman using a writer’s persona, who unravels feverishly with his eyes set on
Chicago International Film Festival closes first weekend with some ... Brandon Gaylor from The Examiner
Last night, Festival attendees went gaga for this ensemble
comedy. In structure, it resembles Garry Marshall's latest efforts
"Valentine's Day" and "New Year's Eve", following five
leads as their lives intersect in
As the daughter of two film professionals, Karin Fahlén literally grew up on various Swedish film sets of the 60’s. Now she’s directing her own first feature, Stockholm Stories, a romantic relationship drama which aims to highlight the unusual in everyday life.
Karin Fahlén arrives at the fashionable hotel in
Those characters include Jessica (Cecilia Frode), a single woman refused the right to adopt a child because of her lack of friends. Then there’s the reserved Thomas (Jonas Karlsson), who lives for his job in the civil service, and Johan (Martin Wallström), a man with manic tendencies and a peculiar theory of light and dark and how they govern the way we meet, our ability to slow down, to really see each other and to listen.
“In my view there’s been something wrong with Swedish storylines for a long time now. It might sound arrogant, but I can’t face seeing another policeman lying in a ditch. It’s easy to make people cry by running over a kitten on screen. But what’s really difficult is to create a drama from small, everyday things, from the reality that most of us live in. All the characters in my film are united in their feelings of inadequacy, a sort of existential loneliness that becomes more discernible in a city,” says Karin Fahlén.
A true veteran of Swedish film, Stockholm Stories is nonetheless her first feature. With both her
parents working behind the camera, she literally grew up on film sets. Her
mother worked with the likes of Olle Hellbom and Tage Danielsson, her father
with Ingmar Bergman, Bo Widerberg and Roy Andersson. In the 70’s she moved to
“When I was little I was a stunt girl on the popular children’s television series based on Astrid Lindgren’s Emilin Lönneberga. I could ride, but the boy who played the lead couldn’t, so I just pulled a cap over my head and jumped in the saddle. I also seem to remember rolling around in stinging nettles, that kind of thing,” Fahlén recalls. “The reason I went into make up work was that I felt at home in the dressing room. On film sets I was often in the way, but there I could play more freely. And I loved painting, so being able to paint on people suited me just fine.”
After a while she felt a growing desire to tell stories of her own. In 2001 she wrote and directed her first short film Brudlopp, and this whetted her appetite for more. She wrote screenplays, worked as a director’s assistant, made commercials and generally bided her time.
When She read the Jonas Karlsson collection of short stories The Second Goal (Det andra målet), in 2007, she realised that making a feature was her ultimate goal.
“I’ve worked in the film industry all my life. And I grew up in a generation where directors tended to be colourful, demonic men like Stanley Kubrick, Francis Ford Coppola and Ingmar Bergman. Directing seemed out of reach, as if directors had some special insights that the rest of us lack. But filmmakers born in the 70’s and 80’s don’t have the same sense of awe, and this lack of respect has produced some wonderful Swedish films like Play (2011), She Monkeys (Apflickorna, 2011) and Avalon (2011). The Bergman tradition is more like “who are you to talk?” Gradually I’ve come to realise that you don’t need demons to make a feature film, it’s not that mysterious. It’s more a question of the right balance, of preparation and intuition. And to be open to things as they unfold, to work together with others. No man is an island.”
While watching this exceptionally deft but highly
self-conscious comedy, I was reminded of Mike and Theo's
Canada (94 mi) 2011 ‘Scope Official site
This is the Canadian version of Laurent Cantet’s deeply insightful, Palme D’Or winning film THE CLASS (2008), as both feature uninhibited and thoroughly engaging performances by children, where these 11 and 12-year olds are likely in 6th grade, much younger than the more outspoken 13 and 14-year old Junior High School kids in Cantet’s film, which was also written and performed onscreen by the teacher who wrote about his own classroom experience, all featured in his more autobiographical and near documentary classroom study in France. Rather than a searingly realistic, highly provocative societal analysis of race and social class, this is a more poetically impressionistic yet completely unsentimentalized view of a troubled classroom in snowy Montreal, where at the outset one of the students finds their teacher hung themself in their classroom just before school begins. All of the other kids are quickly escorted back outside except one who is haunted by what she sees, where much of the drama of the film takes place between these two kids, Simon (Émilien Néron), who discovered the body, and Alice (Sophie Nélisse) who is traumatized, best of friends before the incident, but both barely speak to one another afterwards. While the school brings in a grief counselor, there are many more kids affected than can be remedied by the actions of a lone counselor, not to mention a classroom without a teacher. When Bachir Lazhar (Mohamad Fellag), an Algerian immigrant claiming to be a Canadian national with twenty years of teaching experience in Algeria, submits his resumé, suggesting his experience can help calm the storm, this feels pretty inviting to the desperately underequipped principal (Danielle Proulx) who is in the all hands on deck mode. While this fictional film was adapted by the director from Évelyne de la Chenelière’s play (who also plays Alice’s mother), the autobiographical element is Fellag, who fled Algeria after receiving death threats from his politically charged stage performances.
Monsieur Lazhar : The New Yorker David Denby
This quiet drama of exile and isolation is intelligent and sensitively made but becalmed, almost inert. Bachir Lazhar (the Algerian writer-actor Fellag) is a fiftyish refugee with a long, sad face, a dark goatee, and a sudden smile that gets overtaken by wintry drafts of melancholy. In Montreal, he talks his way into a job in a middle school and takes over the class of a beloved teacher, a depressed young woman who has recently hanged herself. He makes mistakes with his grief-stricken and bewildered kids—he’s not really a teacher—but he wins them over with his love of the French language, which is his true home. As the movie is conceived, Monsieur Lazhar is too mild to fight for himself or to share his sorrows with the women at the school who find him appealing. The writer-director, Philippe Falardeau, who adapted a play by Évelyne de la Chenelière, floods the school with light. Much of the movie is pleasing, but it never comes close to a simmer, much less to a boil. In French.
Monsieur Lazhar Cath Clarke from Time Out London
In the opening scene of this quietly devastating French-Canadian drama, an 11-year-old boy on milk-monitor duty peers through a classroom door and sees his teacher has hanged herself from a pipe. As he tears off blindly, we hear the clatter of his classmates piling into the building after lunch. Will the boy make it back in time with help? Or will they see what he’s seen? It’s tremendously gripping. Afterwards the kids seem okay, but like banged knees, the bruises take a while to show.
A week or so later, amid the fallout, Monsieur Lazhar (Mohamed Fellag) shows up at the stressed headteacher’s office and is appointed as the class’s substitute teacher. He’s Algerian and claims to have 20 years’ teaching experience. That’s not quite true: he was a civil servant in Algeria before fleeing persecution. None of which prevents Lazhar, a man of huge dignity and compassion, from being a fantastic teacher – after some teething problems. The kids call him a ‘dinosaur’ for making them take Balzac dictation. ‘Personal adjectives don’t exist any more,’ shrills one kid. But he understands more than anyone the trauma they’re going through.
‘Monsieur Lazhar’ was nominated for Best Foreign Film at this year’s Oscars, and Philippe Falardeau, who adapted the story from a one-man play, does a wonderful job with his child actors. The classroom scenes transported me right back to primary school, capturing perfectly the texture of school life: the intimacy of kids who have known each other practically all their lives.You could almost describe ‘Monsieur Lazhar’ as a morality tale, but it’s more thought-provoking than debate-provoking. Its strength is the realness of the emotions and authenticity of the detail, although there is a gentle insistence here that integration is a two-way street.
In the Montreal-set film Monsieur Lazhar, a young boy, Simon, trudges into his middle school ahead of other students and opens the door to his classroom. Inside, his teacher, Martine, is hanging from a pipe, dead by her own hand. He stares at her body for a moment and calls for help, but the sound of children racing up the stairs as the school doors open drowns him out. Simon manages to find an adult to waylay the other kids just in front of the classroom, but one girl, Alice, peeks in. The next week, after the fuss has died down and no permanent replacement for Martine has been found (no one wants the job), a man shows up in the principal’s office and talks his way in. He’s an Algerian immigrant named Bachir Lazhar.
This could be the setup for a social-realist Mary Poppins: Lazhar (Mohamed Fellag, going in the credits by just Fellag) has floated in out of nowhere to help the kids through. But it’s soon apparent that he has little idea how to do it. The curriculum confuses him. Administrators and parents reprimand him for getting too personal. The distance between him and his pupils is vast. Teachers are not allowed to touch their students—not to hit them, of course, but also not to pat them affectionately or shake hands or, God forbid, hug them. No one but Lazhar wants to talk about Martine. But Lazhar too is holding something back: the tragedy that impelled him to seek asylum in Canada. He doesn’t share.
Writer-director Philippe Falardeau keeps most of the turmoil under the surface, but what’s on top is tense, pregnant, and ineffably sad, with a noninvasive and beautiful score by the singer-songwriter Martin Léon. Ineffably sad—yet there’s almost no loitering. The film is crisp, evenly paced, its colors bright, as sharp as the winter cold. Lazhar has a job to do and not, perhaps, much time to do it. Unbeknownst to his employers, he’s facing deportation if he can’t prove that returning to Algeria would endanger his life.
Fellag is a magnetic Monsieur Lazhar: willfully self-contained, anger vanquished, channeling his emotions into his teaching, into finding an equilibrium in the classroom—which is an obstacle course. He insists on his students’ speaking only French because, it turns out, he knows almost no English. They don’t know his secrets; he doesn’t know theirs. Two remarkable young actors, Sophie Nélisse and Émilien Néron, play Alice and Simon. At first they’re drawn together, then repelled for reasons we don’t understand until later. Simon is quietly ravaged, eaten alive with guilt. Alice wants to talk.
Beneath it all is Lazhar’s difficult-to-articulate but fierce conviction that the world is full of anguish and senseless horror but the classroom is where that all goes away, where civilization rules and children feel safe—where you don’t, if you’ll pardon my French, let your own shit interfere with young lives. If that sounds naïve, in the context of the cruelly unsentimental Monsieur Lazhar, it is something to cling to, to fight for.
Monsieur Lazhar, reviewed. - Slate Magazine Dana Stevens
Monsieur Lazhar (Music Box Films), the French-Canadian film that was a nominee for this year’s foreign-language Oscar, belongs to an uncommon tradition of movies about students and teachers. It’s not an uplifting ode to the transformative power of pedagogy, in the mode of Stand and Deliver; rather, like 2008’s The Class, it’s a quiet, sometimes achingly painful meditation on both the possibilities and the limits of the teacher-student relationship. The title character, an Algerian immigrant who steps in to teach a class of Montreal sixth-graders after their teacher commits suicide, is no inspirational firebrand but a courtly, soft-spoken man who has trouble adjusting his traditional values to the needs and expectations of 21st-century kids. Bachir Lazhar (Mohamed Fellag, identified in the credits as simply Fellag) wants his students to transcribe from a Balzac novel, when Jack London is more their speed; when a student acts disrespectful, he casually cuffs him on the side of the head.
In short order, the school’s devoted but worn-down principal (Danielle Proulx) brings Bachir up to speed on the customs of 21st-century education: There will be no touching the children under any circumstances, not even to give an encouraging hug. And all mention of Martine, the dead teacher, must be avoided, except during periodic visits from the officiously soothing school psychologist.
Of course, the children’s grief and confusion can’t be managed as neatly as all that, and Bachir’s class remains haunted by the memory of Martine, who, in a chilling opening scene, is found hanging in the classroom one morning by an already-troubled boy named. Simon and another student, Alice, who also caught a glimpse of the body on that day, can’t stop bringing up Martine’s death in class. Alice’s oral presentation about school pride drifts into a lament for her beloved teacher, and Simon secretly carries a photo of Martine around with him. In the second half of the film, it’s revealed that Mr. Lazhar is mourning his own losses, in a less public but no less painful way.
Though its story may sound formulaic on paper, please take my word for it: Monsieur Lazhar, written and directed by Philippe Falardeau, is a sharply intelligent, deeply sad, and not remotely sappy film about both teaching and collective grief. Its surface may be still and quiet, with cool colors, wintry landscapes, and a delicate piano score, but the emotions beneath run tumultuous and deep. Fellag, an Algerian comedian and humor writer, anchors the film as the ineffable Bachir, a man who’s so private that even the third-act revelation of his back story doesn’t fully explain his motivations to us (nor would we want it to). The children who play Alice and Simon, Sophie Nélisse and Émilien Néron, are exceptional in their scenes with him, and even better when they’re alone together. With almost no words exchanged, we understand how these two are bound by the shared sight of their teacher’s suspended corpse that awful morning. Monsieur Lazhar—the character as well as the movie—offers no simple answers to the hard questions Martine’s death poses: Why did this beloved young teacher kill herself where she knew her students would find her? Will Simon and Alice be permanently traumatized by what they saw? What can their teacher, or anyone, do to help them move on?
Though it’s no Dead Poets Society by a long shot, Monsieur Lazhar does ultimately affirm, in its oblique, understated way, the sacredness of the teacher-student relationship. For an old-fashioned, at times rigid teacher like Bachir, the classroom is a place where order and formality must rule, not for their own sake but as a bulwark against the often incomprehensible chaos and violence of the world outside.
The Film Sufi MKP
Critics At Large: A Delicate Gem: Monsieur Lazhar Shlomo Schwartzberg
Monsieur Lazhar – Movie Review - Monsters and Critics Ron Wilkinson
Monsieur Lazhar - Page 1 - Movies - New York - Village Voice Michelle Orange
Monsieur Lazhar! Donna Shor from Hollywood On the Potomac
Sound On Sight Gregory Ashman
Coming Attractions Peter Hammond from Box Office Magazine
Monsieur Lazhar Movie Review | Shockya.com Brent Simon
Bonjour Tristesse (English) photos
Monsieur Lazhar – review Philip French from The Observer
Review: Monsieur Lazhar - Reviews - Boston Phoenix Gerald Peary
Worthy lesson in 'Lazhar' - BostonHerald.com James Verniere
Movie review: 'Monsieur Lazhar' Walter Addiego from The SF Chronicle
'Monsieur Lazhar': Trauma, tenderness in a Canadian school Michael Phillips from The Chicago Tribune
Monsieur Lazhar - Movies - The New York Times Stephen Holden
THE COLLECTOR (Komornik) B 84
A film that opens with the frenetic pace of MTV videos, with a jittery hand held camera following hilarious chase sequences of Lucek (Andrzej Chyra), the local repo man (debt collector) with the highest average for successful collections, a man with a nose for uncovering hidden assets, usually risking life and limb in the process, to the pumping sounds of loud rock music. Brazenly soulless, a cocky Mephistopheles wunderkind who takes great pleasure in the misfortunes of others, his arrogance and ruthless disregard for his victims are second to none, calling them morons and cretins, hated by all who know him, which only makes him relish his insidious nature all the more, smirking as he repeats his company mantra, “I’m only doing my job.” He’s the picture postcard for capitalist opportunist, yet you can’t argue with success in an otherwise economically depressed region.
At the peak of his success, as another guy’s sultry wife is voluntarily exposing her own assets, he has an epiphany of sorts, suddenly developing a soul when he realizes he just screwed an invalid kid by his first love out of one of the few pleasures she’ll ever have, and for what? One by one, he starts returning objects of his collection, like a small statue of the Virgin Mary, which he claims has instructed him to give everything back. When an elderly couple see him back at their home, they sneer insults and venom in his direction. Others follow suit and initiate bodily harm, smashing his car to bits, leaving him scorned and a bloody mess. It was starting to resemble a Polish parable on the PASSION OF THE CHRIST. When he started to return money to people who needed it, people threw it back in his face, but he retaliated, yelling back: “You can’t forbid me from doing good!”
The pace slows to a crawl as he becomes Christ-like and morally righteous, but there’s a beautiful scene of a local church funeral, where the orchestra, whose repossessed instruments have been returned, establish a tone of solemn devoutness. But he begins to believe that he and everyone around him have developed a foul odor from their inherent evil, and in a Macbethian image, no matter how hard he washes his hands, he can’t wipe away the stench. I heard the person sitting next to me utter to her friend, “He was a much more interesting bad guy than he is good.” And that comment pretty much explains it all. As a slick, zany bad guy, he’s in a class by himself, showing no remorse, sneering at the rest of the world while he has it all. But when he starts to question what he has in moral terms, he’s much less convincing.
Manny Farber, though
still much-revered as a film critic, currently eschews film in favor of
painting. Farber began writing film reviews for The New Republic in 1942. He
continued his film career through the 1970s, writing most notably for
publications such as Film Comment. As his book "Negative Space"
(1970) reveals, his dense, surprising prose is extraordinarily rich in ideas;
he possesses a keen ability to articulate otherwise impressionistic
observations about film. His criticism clearly comes from the point of view of
an artist who respects filmmaking as a potential art, not as a commercial
product. The notoriously "cantankerous," "cranky," and
"curmudgeon-like" tone of his critic's voice seems to derive from his
personal frustration with the state of contemporary filmmaking. He often feels
that film is being abused or prevented from realizing its artistic
possibilities. Not surprisingly, by the 1970s his work as a painter began to
overshadow his writing; gradually, painting replaced film criticism altogether.
He currently paints and teaches art at the
Manny Farber was a friend of mine before we ever met. I recall exactly how I was introduced. I had read Pauline Kael's jeremiad on Andrew Sarris and the auteur theory, "Circles and Squares," in her first (and at the time, only) collection of film criticism, I Lost It at the Movies, or perhaps I had read it upon its initial appearance in Film Quarterly magazine in 1963. Whichever, it was an attack that aroused nothing so much as sympathy for its victim and curiosity to read for myself the essay that had incited it. I got hold of the pertinent issue of Film Culture, America's Independent Motion Picture Magazine, No. 27, Winter 1962/63, either directly from the magazine's offices or, more likely, from that lifeline to the outside movie world for a suburban Minneapolis high-schooler, the Larry Edmunds Bookshop in Hollywood. The lead article, "Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962" by Andrew Sarris, told me what I had shelled out a dollar-fifty plus postage for, but it got completely upstaged by the article immediately following it, "White Elephant Art vs. Termite Art" by Manny Farber, a piece that left my head feeling like a punching bag after a Cassius Clay workout, and that seemed to embody to the nth degree the kind of art the author was touting: "A peculiar fact about termite-tapeworm-fungus-moss art is that it goes always forward eating its own boundaries, and, likely as not, leaves nothing in its path other than the signs of eager, industrious, unkempt activity."
One thing leads to another. Kael to Sarris to Farber. I may have recognized
the third name from a handful of references in the collection of James Agee's
criticism, Agee on Film. I may not. But here, clearly, was a new acquaintance
to cultivate. He would confide to me later that when the magazine hit the
stands he had an urge to go into hiding, and that Pauline Kael, who had a piece
on Shoot the Piano Player immediately following Farber's in the
magazine, tracked him down to tell him she could not make out what he was
talking about. Yet the terminology of his title has -- shall we say? -- gnawed,
burrowed, wormed its way into the critical vocabulary and has been much
appropriated and misappropriated by others. Only a couple of years ago when I
The next step would have been similar. (One thing leads to another.) I was
reading a book-length survey of the contemporary cinema called The
Contemporary Cinema -- this was one of the means whereby a
The next step is less distinct. How I learned that Farber at that time -- smack in the middle of the Sixties -- was writing a monthly column for Cavalier, a girlie magazine with Playboy-ish intellectual aspirations, I can't say. I confess I already knew the magazine, and had a copy of it from circa 1962, which I wish I still had today, with a peekaboo pictorial of Jane Fonda in it. In any event, it now became a monthly must, and luckily there was a newsagent at Seventh and Hennepin, bless him, who was willing to sell me unlawfully anything I had the coin to pay for. This period in Farber's criticism was, I see in retrospect, unsurpassed in freewheelingness and wordplayfulness, and my head got sharply turned. I had a new star to hitch my wagon to. His influence on my own scribblings, although unnamed, did not go unnoticed by my twelfth-grade English Composition teacher. It was not until after I had made his acquaintance in the flesh that I was compelled to find other writers to mimic. You can't very well look a man in the eye on a daily or weekly basis when you're stealing from him. Besides which, you may easily enough tap another's language, syntax, even to an extent taste and enthusiasms, but you cannot take over his vision. And no other film critic has been so deeply involved with literal, actual, active vision -- with looking, with watching, with seeing, experiencing, reacting. But again I get ahead of myself.
The eventual meeting would occur in the last half of my senior year at
I was fortunate in my timing. This was early 1970, when the injured Willis
Reed would hobble onto the basketball court at the start of Game Seven in the
NBA Finals, and Manny -- I was now on first-name terms -- was a red-blooded
American sports fan as happy to talk, in after-class adjournments to the coffee
shop, about the Knicks as about the new Hitchcock or new Bresson. Too, he was
preparing a show of his recent paintings in
A year later, after he had decamped to UCSD to start up a program of film
studies in the Visual Arts Department, he was back in
Manny's film classes -- I can speak first-hand of only three years of them, though they would continue for another thirteen until his retirement in 1987 to devote himself full-time to painting -- were the stuff of legend, and it seems feeble and formulaic to call him a brilliant, an illuminating, a stimulating, an inspiring teacher. It wasn't necessarily what he had to say (he was prone to shrug off his most searching analysis as "gobbledegook") so much as it was the whole way he went about things, famously showing films in pieces, switching back and forth from one film to another, ranging from Griffith to Godard, Bugs Bunny to Yasujiro Ozu, talking over them with or without sound, running them backwards through the projector, mixing in slides of paintings, sketching out compositions on the blackboard, the better to assist students in seeing what was in front of their faces, to wean them from Plot, Story, What Happens Next, and to disabuse them of the absurd notion that a film is all of a piece, all on a level, quantifiable, rankable, fileable. He could seldom be bothered with movie trivia, inside information, behind-the-scenes piffle, technical shoptalk, was often offhand about the basic facts of names and dates, was unconcerned with Classics, Masterpieces, Seminal Works, Historical Landmarks. It was always about looking and seeing.
He would endlessly preview the week's movies on the wall of his studio on campus or his rented house in Del Mar, lugging an anvil-weight 16mm projector to and fro, together with three or four valise-sized boxes of celluloid, and yet throughout these endless hours he felt no necessity to watch every reel of every movie. If you wanted simply to know How It Ends, he might not have the answer. One week he had previewed Kurosawa's wide-screen High and Low without benefit of an anamorphic lens, so that the image was squeezed like an accordion, and all of his prepared comments on narrow spaces and vertical lines, perfectly true to what he was seeing, had to be modified on the fly when the film was shown in class, stretched out horizontally with the proper lens. He was constitutionally unable to make things easy on himself. It never would have occurred to him to follow the conventional pattern (see Robert Osborne on TCM) of introductory remarks, uninterrupted movie from beginning to end, concluding remarks, and call it a day. It was unthinkable ever to repeat the same movie and the same lecture at a later date. People were forever taken aback to find out that something he had written fifteen or twenty years earlier no longer represented his views on the matter. Everything had to be re-examined afresh, looked at from a different angle, turned on its head. Nothing was nailed down, fixed, finalized. Like the metaphorical termite of that 1962 essay, he was always moving forward, less inclined in 1972 to talk about Preston Sturges or Val Lewton than about Werner Herzog or Rainer Werner Fassbinder. While he was very much the sort of teacher to attract followers, hungering for his wisdom and wit, thirsting for his approval, he was not the sort to have actual disciples. He had all the requisite charisma, just not the dogma. He was, succinctly put, too individual, too inimitable. No one could keep up with him.
My privileges have been many. I was privileged, right off the bat in
To pull back to the widest angle on the subject: Not everyone who goes into his chosen field gets to have as a teacher and a friend the figure who, in the fledgling's eyes, stands above all others in the field. The downside of that is the impossibility of measuring up and the difficulty, for different reasons than that cited earlier, of looking him in the eye on a daily or weekly basis, or, as time slips by, more like a yearly basis. Manny himself has always been kind, considerate, generous, and gentle, to go along with wry, droll, sardonic, contrary, combative, defensive, touchy, testy, cranky, cantankerous, difficult, dissatisfied, complicated, or whatever descriptive adjective anyone might have attached to him. He didn't need to scold me. For that, I needed only his example.
This is the season once again, coming around as seasons will, whether he
likes it or not, to pay homage to Manny Farber. A show of his latest paintings
and drawings is on exhibit through June 3 at the Quint Gallery in
notes on Negative Space Benjamin Halligan reviews Farber’s 1998 book Negative Space: Manny Farber on the Movies, from Senses of Cinema, January 2001
Synoptique Article - Silence is Golden : The Ferguson - Farber Affair Colin Burnett from Synoptique, April 26, 2004
eric gelber on manny farber at ps1 museum a piece on Farber’s painting (December 2004)
They Drive by Night: The Criticism of Manny Farber Jonathan Rosenbaum, August 18, 2008, from a personal essay written in 1993, Placing Movies: The Practice of Film Criticism, with a follow up letter from Patricia Patterson to John Powers, August 28, 2008 here: Jonathan Rosenbaum
SF360: Manny Farber (1917-2008): "The Geography of Gesture" Robert Polito from SF360, August 18, 2008, reprinted from the 2003 SFIFF catalogue
girish: Manny Farber, In Memoriam August 25, 2008
Spencer Parsons Night, Termite, from The Austin Chronicle, August 29, 2008
Manny Farber Kent Jones from Film Comment, November 2008
Farber Figure David Fear from Time Out New York (2008)
Asghar Farhadi is an Iranian filmmaker who graduated from the University of Tehran in 1998. After working in student plays, national radio, and television hits, his first feature film was 2003’s Dancing in the Dust. He went on to direct the award-winning films The Beautiful City in 2004 and Fireworks Wednesday in 2006, and won major international recognition with About Elly (2009), about a group of Iranians who take a trip to the Caspian Sea that turns tragic.
Farhadi said the concept of A Separation just came to him: “The idea for the film came to when I was sitting in the kitchen of my friend’s flat in Berlin nearly one year ago. I was here preparing another film, but I decided to do this one instead. I was smoking a cigarette in the kitchen, listening to some Iranian music and then I decided to make it. The film is influenced by my personal experiences and the situation in Iran and also some abstract pictures I had in my mind. It was like a puzzle. The story was in my mind for some time but when I decided to make it it happened quickly.”
Berliner Künstlerprogramm | Biography: Farhadi, Asghar Berlin Festival biography
Asghar Farhadi Mubi
• View topic - A Separation (Asghar Farhadi, 2011) Criterion forum, a film discussion group, December 7, 2011
Asghar Farhadi Interview with the director by Artifical Eye (2011)
The Financial Times [Nigel Andrews] Nigel Andrews interviews the director, June 24, 2011
Reluctantly, an Iranian director becomes a symbol - latimes.com Steven Zeitchik interviews the dirctor from The LA Times, October 3, 2011
Read our Q&A with writer-director Asghar Farhadi David Fear interview with the director from Time Out New York, December 19, 2011
ASGHAR FARHADI, “A SEPARATION” | The Filmmaker Magazine ... Damon Smith interview with the director, December 28, 2011
'A Separation' probes Iranians' conflicted love for their country, says director Roshanak Taghavi interview with the director from The Christian Science Monitor, January 20, 2012
DANCING IN THE DUST (Raghs dar ghobar)
Iran (95 mi) 2003
Two outcasts, a silent old man and a loudmouthed Azerbaijan youth, set out to catch poisonous snakes in the desert in this eye-catching first film by Asghar Farhadi. His theme, surprisingly, is love and the sacrifices it demands, beautifully illustrated in the story's final, satisfying twist. Mustering enough festival and critical support, pic could find favor with Western auds in search of exotica with a heart.
Though Nazar (Yousef Khodaparast) is madly in love with his young bride Reyhaneh (Baran Kosari), his family and friends make him divorce her when they hear rumors her mother is a prostitute. The boy, who's a little crazy, agrees to the divorce but becomes obsessed with paying the girl's marriage portion, which he can't afford. He earns barely a pittance in a strange pharmaceutical institute, where serums are made from the antibodies in horses injected with snake venom.
On the run from a creditor, he hides in a delivery van and finds himself transported to the middle of the desert. Ignoring his demands to be taken back to the city, the stony-faced old driver (Faramarz Gharibian) makes him sleep outside in the cold and wait the next day while he goes to hunt snakes. Nazar foolishly tries to hunt, too, hoping to make money for Reyhaneh, and gets bitten in the process. To save his life the snake hunter cuts off his wounded finger, keeping it in a jar so it can later be reattached. But Nazar, still reeling with love for his ex, has other ideas.
Dispensing with heavyhanded symbolism, Farhadi tells the tale engrossingly and with a lot of physicality through the two main actors. As the young swain, Khodaparast creates an original, often irritating character redeemed by his great love. Gharibian's haunted face needs no words to express his inner devastation, and in fact he barely speaks in the film.
The snakes are genuinely scary, almost as much as the protags' unpredictable emotions.
BEAUTIFUL CITY (Shah-re ziba)
Iran (101 mi) 2004
Basically a conventional story-driven drama, writer-director Asghar Farhadi's Beautiful City is a different kind of Iranian film—for New York audiences, at least. With best friend Akbar still in prison, facing the death penalty for killing his girlfriend at age 16, recently released Ala (Babak Ansari) recruits the condemned boy's sister (Taraneh Alidoosti, recently seen in I'm Taraneh, 15) to lobby the victim's father (Faramarz Gharibian) for clemency. At times resembling an Iranian Dead Man Walking, Beautiful City goes out of its way to give each character a fair shake—a few patriarchal rages notwithstanding, even the vengeful father is treated sympathetically. But the script, overly laden with red herrings, forces its characters into some improbable dilemmas—the bereaved father has to choose between paying the blood money required for the execution (Iranian law stipulates the value of a woman's life as half that of a man's) and getting an operation for his wife's adult daughter—and the ambiguous ending feels inconsistent with the too tidy setup. But as a director, Farhadi demonstrates a lighter touch—the paint peeling from the door frames tells us all we need to know about his characters' financial straits.
Nearly every film that comes to us from Iran seems to recognize its culture and people as living in a perpetual state of flux, an angle that seems unconsciously built into the DNA of these films. For Bahman Ghobadi, the relentlessness of life in Iran is a horrifying matter of fact—for others, like Mohsen Makhmalbaf and Abbas Kiarostami, it's sometimes an area of subversive critique. Persistence is everything in Asghar Farhadi's visually undistinguished but affecting Beautiful City, a simple film about the power of forgiveness. Neither unremitting nor detached, it represents something of an anomaly for the Iranian film we're typically used to seeing; its casual manner and openness may or may not win it many fans, but it's this very relaxed vision and delivery that works to legitimize it. The film opens in a juvenile detention facility where a young boy, Akbar (Hossein Farzi-Zadeh), awaits execution for murdering his girlfriend when he was 16. In the outside world, Ala (Babak Ansari), a petty thief let out of prison for good behavior, helps Akbar's sister, Firoozeh (Taraneh Alidoosti), to secure the clemency Akbar needs from the father of the girl he killed. Context is uprooted during the natural flow of conversation; information such as Akbar's former days as a prostitute and her ex-husband's drug use is treated with minimal hysteria; and insight into the punitive nature of the Islamic judicial system and how readily people hold the fates of others in their hands is effortlessly entwined with the storyline of Ala and Firoozeh's bourgeoning romance. Every decision in the film hinges on a form of sacrifice—a struggle to do what is right without necessarily compromising one's values. The film's hopefulness is matched only by its goodness, and its message is one we could all stand to learn.
Film-Forward.com Parisa Vaziri
An engrossing anomaly in Iranian cinema, the steady-paced Beautiful City is never confined to one subject. Although the film does not completely ignore the quintessential issue of life under an oppressive regime, it still manages to extract more universal meaning from the injustices of the law, questioning whether the root of these wrongs are really so simple or whether there is an underlying complexity and contradiction in even the most seemingly obvious of injustices – in this case, capital punishment.
Akbar has just turned 18. After having spent two years in a rehabilitation center for committing murder, he is now old enough for execution. His only hope for exoneration is to receive a pardon from the father of the deceased – an impossibly dogged man set on retaliation for his daughter’s death. But there’s a chance he’ll relent. According to Islamic law, the value of a woman’s death is half of that for a man. In other words, the father must pay more blood money in the difference between the worth of his daughter and her murderer, which he can’t afford.
An unlikely romantic relationship comes to fruit after Akbar’s former cellmate, A’la (the beguiling Babak Ansari), unites with Akbar’s sister to obtain the consent. As Firoozeh, Taraneh Alidoosti (from I Am Taraneh, 15) is remarkably convincing as the strong-minded but vulnerable older sister, who wears a wedding ring and works full-time to support her infant son.
Beautiful City thrives on the nuances that are the hallmark of Iranian cinema. But what distinguishes it from other Iranian tragedies is its refreshing comedic element, which comes through subtly and at just the right moments – for example, over a kebab dinner through which A’la and Firoozeh, developing an illicit romance, converse “through” Firoozeh’s toddler, flirting like adolescents.
Director Asghar Farhadi manages to cover the tragic material of his film quite concisely and unpredictably. His point becomes most clearly vocalized when A’la speaks to an elder about the justice or injustice of Akbar’s sentence. It becomes clear that neither is completely convinced about his opinion, because, perhaps, there is no right answer.
Thankfully, this is anything but a cloying message film. The characters, not the issues, are in the foreground. Among the most accessible of recent Iranian films, this dramatic labyrinth is as skillfully made, if not more so, than any of this year’s best foreign language film nominees.
FIREWORKS WEDNESDAY (Chaharshanbe-soori) B+ 91
The titular fireworks are literal – the story takes place as Iranians celebrate New Year by spring-cleaning and lighting firecrackers – and metaphorical : when Rouhi, a young bride-to-be working for a cleaning agency, turns up at the apartment of a couple about to go on holiday, she’s drawn into an explosive domestic conflict. What distinguishes the film is the way Farhadi keeps us guessing from as to what exactly is happening and why; repeatedly shifting our point of view, he forces us to question our assumptions about characters and their reliability. This compelling, corrosive account of male-female relationships in today’s Tehran is tempered by genuine compassion for the individuals concerned; wisely, Farhadi never serves judgement on them in their troubled pursuit of truth, love and happiness. Intelligent, illuminating and directed with unflashy expertise.
The world is a complicated place in Asghar Farhadi's sophisticated and arrestingly played Fireworks Wednesday (Chahar Shanbe Souri), which could justifiably be called the find of the festival (this Iranian entry won the Gold Hugo for Best Film). Its heroine, a naïve young freelance housemaid, is plagued with chador trouble: first the black robe tangles inside the wheel of her fiancé's motorbike, sending them both merrily tumbling to the pavement. Then, when she wants to try on her ultra-frilly wedding gown, she pulls the virginal-white dress over her midnight-black chador, but soon loses the garment in the tumult of a day's work at an apartment block. Though rock certain that "my fiancé is totally in love with me," she has to steer her way through a network of relationship meltdowns and salutary examples of marital deceptions and betrayals, as the vivid flowing action turns increasingly complex what with spying and eavesdropping throughout an epic argument between a harried husband and his paranoid spouse. The pungent dialogue also involves an understanding divorcée, a little boy with nightmares about hell, and assorted big-city neighbors and relatives. Set during the frenzied New Year holiday, all the marital fireworks fittingly take place to the constant crack and pop of gunfire and firecrackers and explosions and flames and sizzling sparklers.
One of the things I love about Iranian cinema is that it seems to inspire itself. Even a decade after the first Iranian "New Wave" films began appearing in the United States in 1997, Iranian filmmakers have refused to "go Western" and use Hollywood methods in their films. Rather, Iranian filmmakers have continued to work with the original ideas and methods that made their cinema exciting in the first place. Here's a film directed by a relative newcomer, Asghar Farhadi, that feels just as fresh as films by his predecessors, yet it also turns slightly inward, getting a little closer to the more turbulent human emotions, and it comes out the other side with a vivid, three-dimensional portrait of three characters over the course of one day.
Taraneh Alidoosti stars as Rouhi, a young woman on the verge of marriage with a man she truly loves. She takes a day job as a maid, working for a couple all the way across town. A window has been broken, and the husband Morteza (Hamid Farokhnezhad) and wife Mojdeh (Hedye Tehrani) prepare to go away for the New Year's holiday. Rouhi slowly realizes that Mojdeh suspects her husband of having an affair. Throughout the day, Rouhi goes from being dismissed to sitting in on the family's arguments. At one point, her employer sends her to a beauty parlor, where she hears more gossip. She does her best to help with a few well-placed white lies, but the film has a few more twists.
Director Asghar Farhadi takes his time, allowing information to creep in at its own pace rather than trying to force it all upon us in the first ten minutes. But the most vivid element is his well-rounded characters: men and women truly relating to one another in both positive and negative lights. (Previous Iranian films have tended to be more about poetic concepts than concrete characters.) He also uses veteran actors, rather the preferred method of using amateurs. Hedye Tehrani, with the longest list of credits, is particularly striking; she's quite beautiful and runs the gamut from angry to heartbroken. In one scene, she sinks to an ultimate low: she steals Rouhi's chador as a disguise to spy on her husband, but her husband sinks even lower by hitting her. Farhadi expertly uses the space of the apartment building, as well as the passing time of the long day. When it gets dark, the "Fireworks Wednesday" celebration begins (basically New Year's Eve), which verges on a violent outburst. Morteza drives Rouhi home through what looks like a battlefield of fires, explosions and unruly crowds. When Rouhi returns to her husband, her fresh, unalloyed love may have been tainted by a bit of reality, or it may be stronger than ever.
The Film Sufi MKP
Filmjourney Doug Cummings
Fireworks Wednesday Review. Movie Reviews - Film - Time Out ... Ben Kenigsberg from Time Out Chicago
ABOUT ELLY (Darbareye Elly) A- 94
Iran France (119 mi) 2009 About Elly Official Site
Asghar Farhadi is one of the few major Iranian directors that still makes films in Iran, a nation where literally dozens of filmmakers have been arrested and released under the Ahmadinejad regime, as Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof, along with filmmaker and actress Mahnaz Mohammadi, remain imprisoned for political differences, their passports revoked, banned from making future movies, while legendary Iranian New Wave directors Abbas Kiarostami and Mohsen Makhmalbaf work in exile. It’s a significant paradox that Farhadi has been free to serve on juries for major international film festivals, and even win major prizes himself, including his highly acclaimed A Separation (Jodaeiye Nader az Simin) (2011), which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film (also nominated for Best Original Screenplay), becoming the highest grossing Iranian film ever made (listed as #40 foreign language movie of all-time, Foreign Language Movies at the Box Office - Box Office Mojo) and the first Iranian to win an Academy Award in any competitive category, while his compatriots languish in prison. We are reminded that in September 2010 during the making of A Separation (Jodaeiye Nader az Simin), which due to past film successes was made without any governmental support, Farhadi was banned from making the film by the Iranian Ministry of Culture, as during earlier acceptance speeches at award ceremonies, he expressed support for Mohsen Makhmalbaf, an exiled Iranian filmmaker living at the time in Afghanistan, and imprisoned political filmmaker Jafar Panahi, both of whom are linked to the Iranian Green Movement that questioned the validity of the 2009 Iranian Presidential election, demanding the removal of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from office. The ban was lifted a month later after Farhadi apologized for his remarks and claimed to be inaccurately perceived. While certainly considered one of the most important directors of the 90’s, the Iranian government has long refused to permit the screening of any Kiarostami film for well over a decade, causing him to remark, “The government has decided not to show any of my films for the past 10 years... I think they don’t understand my films and so prevent them being shown just in case there is a message they don’t want to get out. They tend to support films that are stylistically very different from mine – melodramas” ("Abbas Kiarostami – Not A Martyr", Stuart Jeffries from The Guardian, April 26, 2005), which begs the question, why is Farhadi still visibly working in Iran while others have disappeared or been silenced? The Past (Le Passé) (2013) was even partially financed by Iran. Perhaps it’s a matter of economics, as his films continue to make money, seemingly at odds with arthouse filmmakers who have other priorities. That being said, ABOUT ELLY is only belatedly having an international release six years after it premiered to considerable acclaim at the Berlin Festival in 2009 where Farhadi won a Silver Bear for Best Director, winning dozens of other awards as well, but it was mysteriously shelved afterwards, as an earlier distributor that acquired the film apparently went out of business. It’s curious that this film’s public introduction comes “after” his two earlier films drew such heavy international praise, where one of them surprisingly became the most successful film in Iranian film history.
When seen in this context, how ironic that the film with the least amount of accompanying accolades is arguably this director’s best film. This may be the closest Farhadi has come to emulating Jafar Panahi, where Western elements creep into an Iranian film, whose CRIMSON GOLD (2003) mixes the stylization of Iranian social realism with a European art film, actually paying tribute to Fellini’s NIGHTS OF CABIRIA (1957). In similar fashion, ABOUT ELLY borrows liberally from Antonioni’s L’AVVENTURA (1960), a film where Italian neo-realism comes face to face with contemporary modern society, a brooding interior film that expresses extreme emotional alienation through slow pacing, narrative ambiguity, and extraordinary visual stylization. In each, a large degree of the film’s success can be attributed to the brilliance of the character development, where multiple figures literally come to life onscreen, becoming familiar to us all by the end of the picture. While Antonioni creates spaces between characters through silences or long wordless sequences, Farhadi takes a more collective approach, creating a group dynamic that is reflective of a casual self-interest mindset when one member of a group of friends goes mysteriously missing during a weekend trip to the Caspian Sea. Intent on examining the fractured and hypocritical culture of the middle-class, Farhadi conceals their underlying motives throughout most of the film before allowing them to erupt in emotional fireworks during an explosive finale. An essay-like comment on contemporary times, ABOUT ELLY also accentuates the extreme degree of alienation from rapidly changing cultural norms, exposing utter indifference to the social injustice of women, whose powerlessness leaves them even further isolated from the mainstream, their lives dominated and completely controlled by the arrogance and paternalistic whims of selfishly deluded men, revealing just how completely out of touch they are with their wives and female counterparts who are all but invisible to them. The stark divide is a breathtaking surprise, a social critique beautifully revealed through unraveling layers of seemingly innocuous conversations that become dramatically intensified, ultimately a distinctively evolving passion play that reaches heights of hysteria, dramatically expressed with a great deal of clarity, though this only becomes evident by the end. Farhadi’s true strength is his writing, and while there are nearly a dozen featured characters, the naturalism of their performances really serves the overall outcome. Much like a stage play, though expressed with utter simplicity, the speed and rhythm of the conversational interplay between characters must reflect the overall mood changes of a very complicated social dynamic, where it’s essential they be viewed as believable and authentic. The success of this film is that all the movable parts contribute to the whole, where what’s lurking under the surface, seemingly benign and of little consequence, has a powerful impact that in the end provides a stunning societal exposé.
The film begins innocently enough, as a group of middle-class friends, old classmates from the university, set out for a relaxing weekend on the shores of the Caspian Sea, three married couples and their young children, including Sepideh, Golshifteh Farahani from My Sweet Pepper Land (2013), who organized the trip, who brings along Elly (Taraneh Alidoosti), her daughter’s kindergarten teacher, while also inviting a male friend Ahmad (Shahab Hosseini), who recently separated from his wife and is visiting from Germany. While the boisterous mood remains upbeat, with plenty of music and chatter, the overriding feeling is one of exuberance, expressing the joy of being young and happy, shot in a cinéma vérité style, where the audience is exposed to wave after wave of overlapping conversations. Not to be deterred, despite being full for the holidays, the group is offered a seaside villa with broken windows and no beds that hasn’t been fixed up yet, but the charm of the nearby sea is inviting. Playing charades, singing songs, or spontaneously breaking out into dance, it’s a celebratory atmosphere with plenty of food brought in for the occasion. While Elly is admittedly shy and reluctantly hesitant, there’s a bit of matchmaking going on behind the scenes, which is all in good fun, where they’re playfully introduced as young newlyweds to the rental owners to avoid any hint of scandal. Nonetheless, with things seemingly going well, Elly is admittedly uncomfortable and seeks to leave early, spoiling the fun for Sepideh who encourages her to stay. While the women are out buying food and the men are having a strenuous volleyball match on the beach, Elly is watching the kids, seen in a state of ecstasy while flying a kite, but then Sepideh’s daughter frantically cries out for help as one of the other children has gone out too far and is being carried out to sea, creating an panic-stricken moment of hysteria where all the adults run and jump into the water without a clue where he is. Fortunately, after a delirious search, the child is safely rescued, but then they notice Elly has disappeared, where no one knows what happened to her. Unsure whether she drowned or returned home on her own, suddenly the film takes on a more sinister mood, where they have to get their stories straight before calling the police, as they don’t wish to be implicated. Self-preservation overrides any sense of honor in the face of tragedy, as each begins looking out for themselves, pointing their fingers at others, trying any way they can to escape blame. It’s a sad and pathetic situation when they literally turn on one another, like sharks with blood in the water, with husbands blaming wives, claiming they should have been watching the kids, not some stranger whose last name they don’t even know, fearing how this might ruin their reputations and good social standing. A carefree vacation of best friends turns into a desperate moment of panic, fear, and outright suspicion. In no time it grows even more complicated, like a house of cards imploding on itself, where a protracted series of lies meant to spare someone emotional grief only escalates, reaching a level of emotional hysteria previously unseen in Iranian films. Relying heavily on suspense, Farhadi unspools this extraordinary drama in sophisticated fashion, first creating the unsettled, murky waters of suspicion and distrust, then critiquing the morality of patronizing, overzealous social conventions while also exploring the male/female dynamic in modern Iran. It’s a masterful effort that moves from the sunny comforts of Èric Rohmer territory to the dark psychological realms of Hitchcockian suspense.
Social strictures loom large in Iranian director Farhadi’s ‘About Elly’, a film that defies prejudices in its early scenes of lively young Iranians leaving Tehran for a holiday by the sea. Tagging along is Elly (Alidousti), a teacher whom one of the women, Sepideh (Farahani), has invited in the hope that she’ll hit it off with divorced Ahmad (Hosseini). If it all sounds too modern to be true, it is: things go wrong when one of them has an accident and this group’s bubble is burst. The writing and direction lean towards the obvious, but there’s much to chew on regarding tradition, progress and the power of the white lie. The film’s energy, hysteria even, may surprise those whose diet of Iranian film has been served solely by European art house cinema.
The first 20 minutes or so of this film are pure heaven. Sheer delight in existence laps from the screen into the audience as a group of old friends from university and their young children take a weekend break in an old house by the sea. They have brought with them a new acquaintance, Elly. She's been invited along by the lively Sepideh, who wants to introduce her to Ahmad, their friend back visiting from Germany, newly divorced. They pull out all the stops to be nice to Elly and encourage the two to get together, but she is strangely reluctant.
Screaming out loud for fun in a road tunnel, flying a kite on the beach, and just the exhilaration of being fit and young and happy with one's life and one's friends – it's heady stuff and wonderfully shot in verité style. It feels like reality we are watching, while also looking like a perfectly choreographed dance. So when a disaster happens, things begin to unravel, and a secret about Elly known only to Sepideh begins to surface, it hits the audience that much harder.
The latter part of the film in which Elly's secret is gradually brought to the surface is maybe a little too long in development, as trust between friends is betrayed. Elly's secret was, in the end, not such a big thing (though clearly something more profound in Iranian culture than it would be in European). The trouble resulting from it is brought about only by misunderstandings and misjudgement, but this in a subtle way makes the tragedy – of Elly of the relationships – more pitiful.
A group of friends go on a holiday by the sea, and after a while one member of the group, a young woman, disappears; the rest of the film chronicles the friends’ attempts to deal with this disappearance. If this description of the plot of Asghar Faradi’s About Elly might give the impression that Faradi is gunning for the position of ‘the Iranian Antonioni’ (as Abbas Kiarostami might be called the Iranian Rossellini, Jafar Panahi the Iranian De Sica, etc.), that turns out to not really be the case. Despite lifting its storyline straight from the art cinema classic L’Avventura, About Elly is very much a mainstream film with mainstream concerns; it has nothing in particular to do with the great Iranian cinema of Kiarostami, Mohsen Makmalbaf and others. Seen in this light, though, the film eventually reveals itself to be very good for what it is. Though I can’t say I exactly understand why both of its sessions at MIFF have been sold out days in advance – nor why, given this immense popularity of an Iranian film, the festival organizers couldn’t even bring themselves to program Kiarostami’s fascinating new work, Shirin (which screened at the Sydney Film Festival) – About Elly is certainly a sensitively acted, thought-provoking film.
Unlike Antonioni, Faradi uses the situation of the missing, probably drowned woman to make sharp observations about his society, particularly its treatment of women and marital relationships. One could sense that this was probably the point of interest for much of the audience, the reason for the film’s apparent buzz – the pointed laughter with which the crowd greeted every indication of sexism or religiosity from a male character became itself rather funnier and more sociologically revealing than the film we were watching. But About Elly, fortunately, is not as straightforward a depiction of ‘the state of things’ in Iran as some might want it to be. It leaves you with as many questions as answers, a sense that you have got to know a group of people and the social world in which they live, and a wish to live in that world a little longer – all things that good mainstream films should do.
About Elly (Darbareye Elly) | Review | Screen Lee Marshall
Observations on film art : A masterpiece, and others not to be ... Kristin Thompson
Asghar Farhadi's “About Elly” – Movie Review Christopher Bourne from Meniscus magazine
What About Elly? | Iranian.com Msabaye
'About Elly' | The Japan Times Online Kaori Shoji
A SEPARATION (Jodaeiye Nader az Simin) B+ 91
aka: Nader and Simin, A Separation
Iran (123 mi) 2011 Official site
My finding is that your problem is a small problem. —Judge (Mohammad Ebrahimian)
A thoughtful, slowly developing film that is largely sustained by scenes set in small, inhabited rooms where people actually talk to one another, where in this film what they choose to openly acknowledge makes all the difference in the world, as tiny omissions are the secret ingredient that add essential drama to this often subdued story. Not sure why all the unanimous praise for this film, as his earlier efforts are equally superb, but it’s a small, completely unpretentious film, largely one giant squabble that opens the film and continues unabated until the supposed justice is rendered in the lingering final shot, told in an extremely realistic style, mostly through piercingly honest, nonstop dialog written by the director, where there are few traces of stylistic flourish, simply an exposé of everyday life, easily comparable to KRAMER VS. KRAMER (1979), though without the histrionic element, as this doesn’t highlight post divorce aftereffects, it deals with all the pre-divorce ramifications. In fact, had people paid attention, as there are opportunities for reconciliation all throughout this story, the results would largely be different. What makes this film so essential is the degree to which choices matter, and not in larger-than-life, long drawn out fights to the finish which are obviously contentious, but in the kind of ordinary talk that takes place every day in people’s lives. In this film, it’s the small moments that matter. Never passing judgment, which is key, the director allows people and their various points of view to interact, where the accumulation of small details eventually escalates into something larger and potentially life threatening, where all reason seems to explode into thin air and self-preservation takes over. While there are small, honorable moments throughout, they are matched by equally despicable moments of lies and deceit where human behavior can become an endurance test for the last one standing. What’s especially unusual is the high quality of acting by all represented parties, where no one really plays the lead, as everyone becomes equally significant, also the relaxed and informal view of Iranian justice at work, as there are no lawyers used and each side is free to speak directly to the judge or one another, but will be removed by a guard if they threaten violence.
Opening in an unpretentious room where a judge calmly listens to an otherwise well-educated and loving mother and father offer their disagreements about their family’s future, where the wife Simin (Leila Hatami) wants to take their teenage daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi, yes, daughter of the director) out of the country in pursuit of a better life, while the husband Nader (Peyman Moadi, who wrote the screenplay to Saman Moghadam’s excellent 2006 film CAFÉ SETAREH), agrees to let her go, if she insists, but their daughter stays with him, as he must stay to look after his own father who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. Since there is no unanimity of decision, the judge orders them to go home and work it out between themselves. What’s clear from the outset is that is something neither one of them intends to do, as Simin anxiously packs while Nader tries to find a housekeeper to look after his father during the day while he’s at work, both avoiding one another while their daughter sits in the corner and trembles. Perhaps the initial sympathy lies with the husband, as he can’t simply abandon his father, and the daughter has chosen to live with him, so the mother is the odd one out when she leaves, though never ventures far and remains involved. The beleaguered Razieh (Sareh Bayat) is the housekeeper, obviously over-challenged on the first day, as she can’t keep up with full-time demands of an incapacitated elderly patient and look after her own small daughter at the same time, where she’s stymied by the idea of having to clean up after he soils himself, wondering if it’s a sin, a violation of Islamic law which forbids the touching of any man except your husband. Her harrowing experience is made all the more difficult due to her own pregnancy, where lifting this guy around all day is just not possible, agreeing to stay on for a few days until they can find somebody else.
After the initial introduction of the principal characters, the rest of the film is a continual shift of truth and perception, where events occur that require lawful intervention, where the courts attempt to determine the truth, but the testimony offered may not be the full truth, where there’s an interesting difference in class division pitting a modern, more affluent family against a more oppressed, fundamentally religious, and economically challenged family, where friendships may sway a neighbor’s or family member’s testimony, where the injured parties feel slighted and dismayed at some of the counter accusations, where both sides continually place blame on others, rarely taking responsibility themselves, where escalating charges may be brought and people imprisoned. In this nightmarish scenario of quickly shifting events, the audience’s sympathies are challenged due to each individual’s circumstances, where the idea of blood money is raised, an ancient idea of reaching an honorable accord between families through the payment of money, which supposedly wipes the slate clean, but individuals have reservations, often hiding something from loved ones. The court has interests in pursuing the truth, investigating and interrogating various parties, each family has their own needs and interests, and there’s a moral or spiritual truth that each individual must answer to. All of these interests collide in a stunning web of moral complexity where no one wants to admit they’re wrong, or see someone wrongfully charged, but people take desperate measures, where children are used as battering rams in the pursuit of justice, where all they want is for their parents to stay together, no matter the cost. It’s an intricate design how all these pieces of the puzzle, when moved in a different manner, will result in a differing outcome. But how can anyone predict the future or know what’s best? And even once justice is rendered, is this any kind of acceptable outcome? A microcosm of society at large, this flawed and deeply humane view of how people’s lives and interests intersect becomes a highly personalized view of the pursuit of justice.
Don’t have any grand thesis about this one, except to say that it’s an exquisitely acted, ambiguous, believable portrait of a society where everything — religion, tradition, justice, gender politics, medicine, absolutely everything — is royally and perhaps irreversibly fucked up. Which can get tiresome, but Farhadi doesn’t push the theme, instead letting it emerge from tremendous drama both macro (the story has a relentless logic that seems to close in from all sides; it reminded me somewhat of a more tragic version of Mamet’s The Winslow Boy) and micro (every scene has an intense, painful energy). I can’t really overpraise the acting; Shahab Hosseini (Farhadi’s About Elly, which I now urgently need to see), in particular, blows the roof off the place as an unemployed, profoundly demoralized husband who has nothing left to lose except his sense of honor and justice. What seems like should be a tough sit for over two hours instead jets by.
Sweeping this year's Berlin Film Festival awards for Best Film, Best Actor (the entire male cast) and Best Actress (the entire female cast), A Separation finally positions writer-director-editor Asghar Farhadi at the forefront of international cinema. This gripping and consummately acted drama follows a pending divorce that sets a well-off family against a poor one, with competing versions of truth and responsibility in modern society. Instead of ironing out any ambiguities, Farhadi keeps revealing further hidden ones, while finding ways to orchestrate routine problems so that they realistically tell us about ourselves, without undue dramatic exaggerations. As the audience is thrown from one ostensibly harmless evasion to another, matters build in wrackingly truthful encounters to unexpected court charges. One secret is that the characters are real individuals rather than a collection of assumptions, aided by the splendid performances, especially by first-time actor Peyman Moaadi as the decent family man and by the director's own daughter Sarina Farhadi. The ghost of Jean Renoir hovers over all five of Asghar Farhadi's films, with approval and understanding of the unvarnished truths of human behavior, all those moments when the inner soul can no longer be concealed. As in his previous films Fireworks Wednesday and About Elly, Farhadi excels at keeping multiple perspectives spinning in the air believably, right down to the exquisitely judged ending, while the inherent tension and live energy of the camera freed from its tripod imparts an exciting immediacy. Farhadi picked up the jury prize in Abu Dhabi, while also collecting Variety's award as the Middle East Filmmaker of the Year. Not bad for a production made for $300,000 and crammed into realistic small spaces where people actually live. But once the drama takes off, nothing else matters.
Mike D’Angelo, Pt. I seen here
[Overwhelming in part, I think, because there really is no cinematic equivalent of Ibsen and Chekhov and O'Neill, and yet Farhadi has somehow conjured up a film worthy of such lofty comparisons without betraying the medium in the slightest. Those expecting to see a searing drama about the travails of a married couple will be as stunned as I was when the titular separation (which occurs in scene one) sets off a chain of apparently trivial events that gradually accumulate power, significance and complexity until they encompass nearly every aspect of not just Iranian society specifically but -- hate to drag out this hackneyed phrase, but it can't be helped -- the human condition in general. Just listing those aspects would require more time and energy than I've got at present, so let me highlight the one that had me furtively weeping throughout: I know of no other film so insightful about the ways that parents unwittingly manipulate and even emotionally terrorize their kids, always with the best of intentions and no recognition of the possible consequences. (To say that the final scene wrecked me would be an understatement.) And the Berlin jury did right in bestowing both of their acting prizes on the entire ensemble, which is pitch-perfect down to the smallest roles -- crucial, since it's in the nature of Farhadi's moral reckoning that there's no such thing as a minor character. (Nonetheless, I'd single out the casually astonishing Peyman Moaadi as best in show.) Really, the only possible knock on A Separation I can even fathom is that it's unmistakably a writer's movie, relying on an understated, purely functional visual scheme -- clearly by design, as About Elly was considerably more striking in that regard. Why distract from the sublime?]
A Separation Mike D’Angelo, Pt. II
Previously addressed here, though I now repudiate my assessment of its visual scheme as "purely functional" -- Farhadi has an elegant, fluid sense of how to organize chaotic human behavior for maximum expressiveness, one that extends well beyond his rather obvious (but still effective) strategy of placing physical barriers (usually glass) between characters in nearly every shot. (I think it seemed less impressive to me than About Elly the first time simply because this one takes place in the city, mostly indoors; it's hard to beat the seaside for ready-made grandeur.) Second viewing turned it into a slow-motion disaster movie, as I was even more cruelly aware of various points at which the entire mess could have been happily or at least tentatively resolved, if only various people were capable of looking past the blinders of their wounded pride or crippling fear. "I find that your problem is a small one," rules the judge in the opening scene, unwittingly opening the floodgates for an escalating series of ostensibly larger problems to muddy and distract; only Termeh, the teenage daughter, seems capable of cutting through all the self-involved bullshit and seeing what's really at stake, though even she winds up compromised when forced to join the adult world prematurely. Simply one of the most heartbreaking movies I've ever seen.
In these days of machine-tooled movies with machine-tooled characters it can’t be stated often enough that, when it comes to matters of the heart, simplest is often best. It's a lesson Hollywood has lost, but it crops up occasionally in movies from abroad and never more triumphantly than in “A Separation.” I think this Iranian movie by the writer-director Asghar Farhadi is the best film of the year.
The storyline is a prime example of how an artist can widen a small-scale domestic situation into an entire microcosm of society. Simin (Leila Hatami) wants to leave her husband Nader (Peyman Maadi), a middle-class bank employee, because he won’t go along with her desire to emigrate in search of better opportunities for their 11-year-old daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi, the director’s daughter). Nader feels obligated to stay with his aged father (Ali-Asghar-Shahbazi), who lives with them and has dementia, but we sense that there is also more to it. Even though he is comparatively secular and bourgeois by Iranian standards, he still partakes of the prevailing patriarchy. Prideful, he wants to call the shots.
With Simin living with her mother while Termeh stays behind with Nader, he hires Razieh (Sareh Bayat), a devout, chador-clad Muslim woman with a 4-year-old daughter, to look after his father. Razieh has not dared tell her hothead, out-of-work husband Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini) about her job; she also has not told Nader – or did she? – that she is pregnant. When Nader and Razieh scuffle, she accuses him of causing her subsequent miscarriage. The lawsuit that ensues, in which Nader is charged with murder and both sides grow increasingly vehement, plays out as a tragedy in which religion and the class system is as much on trial as the protagonists.
Farhadi keeps the story open-ended, so that we, as much as the characters, are unclear about what actually happened. We don’t see the details of the scuffle, nor are we privy to everything that was said between Nader and Razieh. Farhadi isn’t playing games with us. He wants us to recognize that, in the end, no one in this story is culpable; everyone is caught up in a situation spun dangerously out of control.
Razieh is perhaps the movie’s most conflicted character. When she is asked to bathe the naked, soiled old man, she fears the religious consequences and calls an Islamic hotline to seek permission. Razieh is devout and yet she may not be telling the truth about her confrontation with Nader in her testimony before the magistrate. She also holds back from her husband, who is so incensed at Nader that he begins harassing both him and Termeh.
Scared and bewildered, the girl, with her watchful, wary eyes, is pulled into the escalating warfare. Her bewilderment is as much about her father as it is about his accusers. He attempts to use her to his advantage in his defense, and her equivocations lead to consequences that can have no easy resolution – because life is like that.
Farhadi has said in an interview in the Los Angeles Times: “I have watched the film together with many audiences in different parts of the world and there have been a few people who see it as having a political point of view, others who see it as having a moral perspective, others who see it with a social aim, others who see it as reflecting ordinary day-to-day life. It can be any of these things.”
Or, more to the point, all of these things. “A Separation” describes the totality of this society. This is a world in which inevitably, inextricably, the religious and the secular, the social and the political are all one.
The irony here is that Farhadi has made a supremely evenhanded movie in a country notorious for clamping down on its filmmakers. The film is even the official Iranian entry for the foreign film Oscar.
Perhaps the Iranian authorities are cynically offering up “A Separation” as a propagandistic example of how liberal-minded they can be. And perhaps Farhadi, with all his talk about how the film can mean whatever you want it to mean, is playing his own diversionary game.
In the end, it's the film alone that matters. “A Separation” is not the work of a constrained artist. It’s a great movie in which the full range of human interaction seems to play itself out before our eyes. Grade: A (Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material.)
A Separation can't be divorced from Iranian politics Masoud Golsorhki from The Guardian, July 5, 2011
It does art a disservice to say it must work as a metaphor. Yet much Iranian cinema functions as such, for it has had to negotiate with censorship throughout its existence and develop a rich culture that relies on symbolism. Saying one thing and meaning another is an old tradition in the Persian arts. So when the deservedly celebrated Iranian film A Separation is reviewed by predominently western critics, the symbolism at work in this drama will barely be glimpsed.
In Asghar Farhadi's film a middle-class family is being thrown into tumult. Nadar and Simin are evidently still in love, but they argue bitterly about the state of their country and are torn between their loyalty to their daughter, Termah, and Nadar's ageing father, who is suffering from Alzheimer's and must stay in Iran. Simin is prepared to divorce Nadar. Anything to get Termah away from her home country.
The personal has never been so politicised as in contemporary Iran. State interference in the daily lives of Iranians is noted and commented on by many artists, but Farhadi's commentary is particularly authentic and incisive. Simin and Nadar represent the maternal feeling of flight and the paternal need to stay and fight for the cause: the Yin and Yang of the movement for reform. It's the same dilemma that has besieged and disabled generations of Iranians since the constitutional revolution almost 100 years ago: stay and suffocate or leave and be irrelevant.
The couple are young, professional and ambitious. What measure of meritocracy remains in Iran's version of crony capitalism favours them. They have the sophistication and the hustle you need to survive the rigours of Iranian society today. And their fictional struggle echoes the political struggle that we see in Iran today. Nadar's demand that Termah stand up for herself when she is short-changed by a garage worker, echoes the Green movement's question after the disputed presidential election: "Where is my change (vote)?"
On the other side of the class divide are Razieh (a woman Nadar hires to help care for his father) and her husband. They are the Iranian "wretched of the Earth" – the bottom of the heap. They provided the targets for the Shah's army and the cannon fodder that put a halt to Saddam's invasion. It's them that support Khamenei, and they are part of the bloc who voted for Ahmadinejad. Their life choices are limited to say the least. Their opportunity for flight is nil. In their world, democracy is a suspect, unaffordable luxury item.
For them the investment in the revolution is an investment against the worst excesses of unbridled capitalism. This is the couple that "has little to lose and [is] therefore able to gamble all", as the husband cries out in one scene. They are the couple whose agency for change is and will always be the critical weight in Iranian politics, whether in the ballot box or in the fight on the streets.
In the real world the Green movement is stalling because it brought too many from Farhadi's couple A and not enough from couple B on to its side. Not simply because there are way more Bs than As, but because couple A have stuff to fall back on (potential for emigration, material wealth to cash in moment of crisis) and couple B have only faith and an apparently endless ability for suffering.
Khamenei and Ahmadinejad both overestimate the reliability of this power base. This couple and this class are also capable of unravelling under pressure. The husband's propensity for violence is self-defeating. The religious devotion of the wife is a knife that will cut both ways. Each couple is made of two tendencies within each archetype and political tendency: fight or flee and religious devotion v class antagonism. But in the end fruits of ill-gotten gain are inedible for the devout.
The milestone around everyone's neck is Iran. That beloved country ennobled and imprisoned by history, exactly like Nadar's suffering father. The state power, represented by the judicial examiner who oversees Nadar and Simin's divorce case, presides over an opera of lies. He's unconcerned about the truth of the matter, but is hypersensitive when his credentials are called into question. The state apparatus is the fig leaf of efficiency, rationality and even, modernity in a system that is an ideological construct of the most absurd kind.
Farhadi is a great world film-maker and a giant of Iranian cinema. The age of esoteric films like those of Abbas Kiarostami and Mohsen Makhmalbaf (whose beautiful, enigmatic films win festival prizes abroad but remain unwatched at home) is ending. The time of dialectic Iranian cinema is beginning. Farhadi talks to arthouse critics abroad and large audiences at home. This work's role in contributing to the wider public dialogue that is determining the future of Iran should not be underestimated.
Senses of Cinema [Joseph Burke] December 19, 2011
Cinema | 'A Separation': At Sea in the City of Ten Million Tears ... Dan Geist from PBS, October 5, 2011
Critics At Large: A Separation: Marriage and Divorce – Iranian Style Shlomo Schwartzberg from Critics at Large
Filmcritic.com Chris Barsanti
How an Iranian film unites us all John Anderson from CNN, February 20, 2012
David Edelstein on 'A Separation' -- New York Magazine Movie ... David Edelstein
A Separation: When Worlds, and Actors, Collide Bilge Ebiri from They Live By Night
Separation, A - Reelviews Movie Reviews James Berardinelli
NYFF 2011: A Separation Mark Asch from The L magazine
Technorati.com [Cirina Catania] reporting from The Berlin Festival
Paste Magazine :: Feature :: World Cinema: Iran :: A Rich Tim Porter from Paste magazine, October 1, 2004
Asghar Farhadi Interview with the director by Artifical Eye (2011)
The Financial Times [Nigel Andrews] Nigel Andrews interviews the director, June 24, 2011
Reluctantly, an Iranian director becomes a symbol - latimes.com Steven Zeitchik interviews the dirctor from The LA Times, October 3, 2011
Read our Q&A with writer-director Asghar Farhadi David Fear interview with the director from Time Out New York, December 19, 2011
ASGHAR FARHADI, “A SEPARATION” | The Filmmaker Magazine ... Damon Smith interview with the director, December 28, 2011
'A Separation' probes Iranians' conflicted love for their country, says director Roshanak Taghavi interview with the director from The Christian Science Monitor, January 20, 2012
Iranian drama wins top prize at Berlin film festival Ben Child from The Guardian, February 21, 2011
The Guardian [Peter Bradshaw] June 30, 2011
A Separation – review Jason Solomons from The Observer, July 2, 2011
Islam, family overlap in 'Separation' - BostonHerald.com James Verniere
Review: A Separation - Reviews - Boston Phoenix Peter Keough
Iran's political struggle hits the box office - The Washington Post Thomas Erdbrink, The Washington Post, June 24, 2011
'A Separation' review: Till tragedy us do part Amy Biancolli from The SF Chronicle
Iran's 'A Separation' bringing people together - Los Angeles Times Mark Olsen, December 11, 2011
France Italy (113 mi) 2013
One thing for sure is
the eye popping beauty of Bérénice Bejo as Marie, a
fiercely independent woman who runs circles around everyone else in the film
with her intelligence, quick temper, and fiery personality, all traits that are
nearly non-existent in Iranian films, where combative women may behave that way
around children or other women, but remain firmly under the patriarchal boot of
male oppression. But this is
As the title indicates,
the past has a way of wreaking havoc on the present if you’re not careful, and
this film is literally a spiritual barrage of haunting moments from the past
that have a way of continually altering the landscape, where one never arrives
at the desired future, as they’re too busy putting out the fires still burning
from the past. Ahmad
(Ali Mosaffa) is returning to France after a four-year absence living in Iran,
where the reasons are not entirely clear at first, but Marie (Bejo) wants to
finalize a divorce as she’s living with another man, Samir (Tahar Rahim), who
runs a dry cleaning business. Marie has
two children, a self-absorbed teenager Lucie (Pauline Burlet) and young Léa
(Jeanne Jestin), while Samir has a brooding young son Fouad (Elyes Aguis) who
is about Léa’s age, offering her a playmate.
Rather than stay at a hotel, Ahmad arrives in the thick of an unraveling
domestic drama where Lucie’s overt hostility towards Samir means she’s refusing
to speak to her mother for choosing him, claiming she can’t live under the same
roof, as the father figures in her life have never been very reliable. And while Marie is dead set on marrying
Samir, convinced that he is finally the right guy in her life, she invites
Ahmad directly into this continuing family melodrama, suddenly finding himself
trapped in a whirlwind of conflict and regret, where in fairness all he can do
is show sympathy to all sides. While
Marie is continually flustered by the daily upheaval of relentless struggle,
where she is associated with problems of her own making, Ahmad is seen as the
noble peacemaker, even though he has abandoned his family, which set the stage
for exactly what’s happening, as there are repercussions. Nonetheless, as staged by Farhadi, Ahmad
never loses his temper, is always seen as evenhanded, where he plays a
soft-spoken man of wisdom offering his insight, as if he’s the long lost man of
reason. Like the struggles with Iranian
paternalism, the tables are turned against Marie even in
Unlike Arbor in Clio Barnard’s The Selfish Giant (2013), the violently hyperactive child from a dysfunctional family that can’t communicate with anyone in authority, trusting no one, where Barnard builds a realist structure around his inability to communicate, Farhadi’s disobedient children throwing temper tantrums open up instantly to the calm and measured approach from Ahmad, where they’re perfectly able to articulate the nature of their problems and concerns, so long as someone is willing to listen to them, and so long as that someone is Ahmad and not Marie. Don’t you think there’d be some build up of resentment and mistrust after their father has abandoned them for four years, yet here in Farhadi’s world they continually answer honestly and openly, showing no difficulty whatsoever with his long absence. If only divorce and parenting were that easy. But here Farhadi gives Ahmad a free and open road, as he’s free to leave at any time, no questions asked, where he’s the noble hero, while Marie is forced to stew in her own misery and endure all the insults and obstacles that Farhadi places in her way, as he’s the writer of the story. This feels blatantly unfair and slanted throughout, as Ahmad is extended the benefit of sympathy, while Marie’s turbulence is having the world turn against her, in ways she could never anticipate, yet this is the world she initially chose with her own free will as the one she was convinced would make her happiest. She’s the one that has to face the cluster bombs of resentment and she’s the one without even a hint of help or support, as she’s forced to fight all her own battles alone. While it has the feeling of theatrical authenticity, filled with struggling characters that face moments of intense reality, Farhadi really stacks the deck against Marie and pulls the strings on this one. It’s a stinging rebuke of social realism, creating something of a downbeat world where all around her everything is sinking into an empty moral crevasse, where her world is perhaps best expressed by the horrified stares of trembling children peeking around the corners as the adults they feel safest with angrily self destruct before their eyes, bringing with them the uncontrollable, heavy-laden trauma of the past.
For those who found Asghar Farhadi’s last film, A Separation, more of a screenwriter’s movie than a director’s movie, his new one, the Paris-set, French-language The Past, may well prove to be even more frustrating in that regard. In A Separation, there was that one cutaway from a grandfather crossing a busy street to an unrelated event that some found indicative of an overly schematic quality to Farhadi’s writing, with that glaring elision paying off in a big twist late in the film. If anything, The Past is even more predicated on deliberate omissions and payoffs, giving off a feeling of an overt tidiness of construction battling with its sense of realism.
And yet, for the most part, I’m inclined to give Farhadi more of a pass than I might be with other filmmakers of this sort, mostly because of the unsentimental yet soulful humanist vision his films express, one that, more often than not, transcends such relatively technical matters. “The terrible thing is, everybody has their reasons,” Jean Renoir famously uttered in his 1939 classic The Rules of the Game, and aside from its excellence as a piece of storytelling, the brilliance of A Separation lay in Farhadi’s sympathetically clear portrayal of the various characters’ motives, offering all sides and thus making the human drama that much more compelling and, in the end, heartbreaking.
Those virtues are very much in abundance in The Past, which functions as a kind of spiritual sequel to A Separation in its clear-eyed depiction of the fallout of a divorce in all its agonizing emotional complexities, in this case manifesting themselves in the form of inward and outward resentments; shifting loyalties; and buried secrets, both literal and psychological, that are dragged, kicking and screaming, out into the open. All of these are the elements of a classic domestic melodrama, and essentially that is what The Past is. Thanks to Farhadi’s sensitive attention to character nuances, however—helped in no small measure by the intensely committed performances from its cast—the film, more often than not, transcends its soapy trappings and becomes terrifically involving, at times even devastating.
Which is why the overtly schematic moments that don’t entirely come off in The Past stick out like sore thumbs; its last 20 minutes, especially, with the sudden reemergence of a seemingly minor character and her own skeletons, seem more contrived than anything in A Separation. Farhadi’s thematic reach may exceed his grasp this time around, but once again he finds a beautifully inconclusive note on which to end his film. These characters may not be able to completely forget their pasts, but what make us more human than the memories we hold onto, however painful?
As was the case with his Oscar-winning
domestic drama, A Separation, Asghar Farhadi's The Past
preoccupies itself with divorce and familial discord, unfolding as an astutely
realized dialogue piece with the revelation of secrets and subsequent moral
ambiguity making a minor mystery out of it all. The setting has changed —
Farhadi has thrust an Iranian protagonist into a French landscape — but the
traditionalist social critique has not, reiterating the director's auteur
trajectory of reactionary thinking as a political and artistic message.
This time, the story starts with Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) returning to France after several years, having abandoned wife Marie (Bérénice Bejo) and her two daughters, Léa (Jeanne Jestin) and Lucie (Pauline Burlet), for the familiarity of the Iranian social climate. Farhadi, setting up his template of exploring reactions before providing their reasons, doesn't reveal his purpose or their relationship for some time, gradually letting it slip that Marie is desperate for a divorce now that she has Samir (Tahar Rahim), a married man whose wife is in a coma, in her life.
Why his wife is in a coma and why Marie is so eager for a divorce are left on the periphery initially, just as Lucie's overt hostility and the irreverent aggression of Samir's son, Fouad (Elyes Aguis), remain a mystery, propelling the human drama while hinting at the promise of something bigger from the titular past looming beneath the surface.
In this capacity, The Past doesn't disappoint, having an endless series of revelations that ultimately lead to bigger questions and additional digging. Our entry point comes from the perspective of Ahmad — the outsider — as he tries to fit together the many pieces keeping this fragmented, makeshift family at odds.
At first, this structure has some appeal, being formulaic in its cyclic nature, but rewarding the audience with added tidbits of information every time a squabble is resolved by the divulgence of a secret. However, seeing as the film runs for over two hours and, like A Separation, has little action or music to break up the endless talking, the repetition becomes tedious, taking itself far too seriously to have the intended effect.
Essentially, as the many pieces start to fit together and the relationship foundations between Marie and Samir are discussed openly, everything starts to feel very much like the sort of melodrama Almodovar is known for, only without the sense of humour or flashy aesthetic appeal. Played straight, the intensity of the acting is clear, as are the political implications — Farhadi firmly believes that people should remain married, even if it makes them and everyone around them miserable — but there's a void where integrity should be.
The story, while not ludicrous unto itself, unfolds as such, milking emotional reactions from the perpetually crying and screaming cast without any breaks for levity. That everyone would conveniently spill their guts about their guilt and inner moral conflicts so specifically, sharing a bit of information and then waiting for a blow out before revealing another perspective changing point, isn't likely. Since Farhadi plays it all so straight, not allowing the sense of reality to shift enough for the audience to suspend belief or indulge in the versatility of the medium, it eventually becomes ludicrous and frustrating.
Still, as an intricately designed tale that allows its characters to reveal motivations through emotional range and reaction, The Past is exceptional, observing the details — what people wear, how they stand and what they're allergic to — with a keen, consistent eye. In particular, the handling of child actors in relation to their damaged, emotionally unavailable parental figures has an eerie realness that's particularly evident during scenes bordering on abuse.
In trying to depart from the subtlety of A Separation, making a slightly more sensationalized and universal story, Farhadi has sacrificed his strengths, sticking with the style he knows despite diving into a genre that requires more flexibility with the concept of reality versus storytelling.
While flawed, The Past is an interesting and occasionally compelling misstep that foreshadows greater things to come from a very talented, albeit terrifyingly solipsistic filmmaker.
Film Comment [Emma Myers] November/December 2013
Like his previous film, A Separation, Asghar Farhadi’s The Past begins with a deceptively straightforward divorce. Returning to Paris from Tehran to legally terminate his marriage after a four-year absence, Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) learns that his wife, Marie (Bérénice Bejo), has been living with another man, Samir (Tahar Rahim). Papers may be signed with minimal fuss but the past cannot be so easily buried, and once again the Iranian director creates an opportunity to showcase his striking ability to use multiple perspectives to tell an infinitely complex story.
Making little use of the suburban Parisian backdrop, Farhadi opts instead for a chamber drama that is as tightly packed as Marie’s rickety old house. In addition to two children from a previous relationship—petite Léa (Jeanne Jestin) and teenage Lucie (Pauline Burlet)—Samir’s young son Fouad (Elyes Aguis) also lives there, reluctantly. For better and worse, the presence of the even-tempered Ahmad sets the already precarious household off balance as he simultaneously mediates and instigates familial problems large and small.
Despite the obvious conflict of interest, Ahmad is able to assuage the furrow-browed Fouad when he throws his violent tantrums and to coax information from an increasingly moody Lucie. Vehemently disapproving of her mother’s latest relationship, Lucie explains that Samir’s wife is in a coma due to an attempted suicide—a suicide she believes to have been catalyzed by her mother’s affair with Samir. But as far as Marie is concerned, this tragic turn of events was merely the grim culmination of the woman’s long battle with depression, and she can furnish a witness to prove it: the illegal immigrant (Sabrina Ouazani), whom Samir employs at his dry cleaning business.
Much like A Separation, the story spirals, whodunit style, around the blame of the suicide—and around and around—propelled forward and nudged backward as details of past events are revealed and contradicted. As each character attempts to offload their sense of guilt onto someone else, Farhadi further elucidates the elusive nature of truth itself. Forcing his characters into moral gray zones, the director weakens the notion of objectivity, allowing the viewer’s allegiances to shift freely among the household’s denizens—even if as individuals, none of them is particularly sympathetic.
Dispensing with A Separation’s primarily handheld aesthetic, The Past demonstrates a thoroughgoing commitment to stillness. While its visual style mirrors the characters’ sometimes frustrating inability to move forward, the careful framing of bodies and faces—whether crammed into doorways or dim hallways—emphasizes private moments of interiority and noncommunication.
Despite a number of melodramatic ingredients—comas, hidden pregnancies, torrential downpours, and secret missives, among others—the film remains subtly understated, thanks in large part to the impeccable cast. Shaking off the plucky flapper she played in The Artist, Bejo is particularly impressive as the hot-tempered Marie and is well paired here with the soft-spoken Mosaffa, who exudes a paternal calm. Rahim, as always, brings a quiet but subtly dangerous power to the screen as Samir, while Burlet demonstrates maturity beyond her young years as the emotionally fraught Lucie.
Though The Past may lack its predecessor’s gripping sense of urgency (the 130-minute running time does not go unnoticed), it is precisely its circuitous structure that imbues the film with a sense of unadorned reality. Never leaning on flashbacks or expository dialogue, Farhadi doesn’t pit the past against the present so much as he presents the two as inextricably—and rather bleakly—linked. If the past can only become clear in the present, what hope does that leave for the future?
Cannes 2013: Tough acts to follow Geoff Andrew at Cannes from Sight and Sound, May 18, 2013
The Past / The Dissolve Scott Tobias
The Past from Iran’s Asghar Farhadi: Something of a disappointment David Walsh from The World Socialist Web Site
Eric Kohn at Cannes from indieWIRE
Indiewire [Kevin Jugernauth] The Playlist
First look: An Iranian director takes on Western morality Andrew O’Hehir at Cannes from Salon, May 18, 2013
The Past Lee Marshall at Cannes from Screendaily
The Past | Film Review | Spectrum Culture Jesse Cataldo
Movie Review - 'The Past' - From An Oscar Winner, A ... - NPR Bob Mondello from NPR
The Past (Blu-ray) : DVD Talk Review of the Blu-ray Justin Remer
Cannes 2013, Day Two: Iranian director Asghar Farhadi chases A Separation with another stunning drama Mike D’Angelo from The Onion A.V. Club
Fabien Lemercier at Cannes from Cineuropa
Richard Corliss at Cannes from Time magazine
Jordan Hoffman at Cannes from Film.com
Film-Forward.com [Kent Turner] Cannes winners
The Atlantic [Jon Frosch] 10 films from Cannes 2013
Owen Gleiberman at Cannes from Entertainment Weekly
Justin Chang at Cannes from Variety
Nick Vivarelli from Variety
The Past Dave Calhoun at Cannes from Time Out London
Cannes 2013: The Past – review | Film | guardian.co.uk Peter Bradshaw at Cannes from The Guardian, May 17, 2013, also seen here: The Guardian [Peter Bradshaw]
Robbie Collin at Cannes from The Telegraph
The Past Movie Review & Film Summary (2013) | Roger Ebert Godfrey Cheshire
Only Connect: Cannes Report, May 17 | Cannes | Roger Ebert Barbara Scharres at Cannes from The Ebert Blog
'The Past,' With Bérénice Bejo, Directed by Asghar Farhadi ... Manohla Dargis from The New York Times
THE SMELL OF CAMPHOR, THE SCENT OF JASMINE (Booye kafoor, atre yas) A 95
SMELL OF CAMPHOR, FRAGRANCE OF JASMINE Steve Erickson from Chronicle of a Passion
The Farrelly brothers put a more sentimental spin on their trademark gross-out/arrested adolescent schtick, wresting the issue of fatness from the feminists and kicking it into the comedy arena with mixed results. The film is not as funny as their best, but fascinates in the discomforting way it foregrounds the brothers' normally buried, facile moral dialectic. Black brings a bravely unattractive self-satisfaction to the leading character, Hal, an uncool, semi-orphaned jerk, unaware of how his relationships with women have been distorted by the shocking deathbed testament of his clergyman father. Disappointing his equally sad sidekick Mauricio (Alexander), a sexual perfectionist, he is converted into the very paradigm of PC following an encounter with a TV guru (Robbins) who hypnotises him. Now seeing people only for their 'inner beauty', he falls for incredulous 300lb millionaire's daughter Rosemary - Paltrow alternately svelte (and breast-enhanced) and wading around in a body suit. Most of the gags cater magnificently to the lowest common denominator - the Farrellys impress with their sheer audacity, if nothing else. Few mainstream film-makers scratch so violently at the scabs on the modern psyche. The optimism they display in poking fun at the hypocrisy of modern social behaviour is both moving and funny.
The only misstep in the Farrelly Brothers'
carefully calculated Shallow Hal is that it naively explains its titular
chauvinist's superficiality as product of saucy father love—a young Hal watches
Dad croak but not before the dirty Reverend advises the portly tyke to never
settle for routine putang. With his abrasive bud Mauricio (Jason Alexander) in
tow, an older Hal (Jack Black) does the Roxbury shtick at the local nightclub.
For trolls, their standards are entirely too high, which makes the Farrelly Brothers'
experiment all the more palpable. Self-help guru Tony Robbins hypnotizes Hal
into seeing women for their inner beauty; the end result isn't so much a blind
taste test for the male pig than it is a subversive jab at the fragile male
Hal's view of women makes a 180-pound turn. He falls in love with Rosemary (Gwyneth Paltrow), an overweight humanitarian that splits her time between a hospital's pediatric unit and a local Peace Corps outpost. The Farrellys cleverly position the pair's courting ritual as an awkward game between a sweetening lothario and a seemingly anorexic beauty. Hal sees rail-thin, everyone else sees behemoth—chairs and benches hysterically crumble beneath Rosemary's weight yet Hal is none the wiser. The Farrellys fascinatingly complicate Hal's vision by situating Rosemary as the daughter of his company's owner. Mauricio thinks he's crazy and everyone else thinks he's an opportunistic creep trying to worm his way up the corporate ladder.
More so than There's Something About Mary, Shallow Hal is incredibly sweet and humbled by an overwhelming sadness. While everyone's "you're being shallow" jargon may be simpleminded to a fault, the Farrellys transcend their "equal-opportunity offenders" status by bravely indicting unusual suspects as instigators of female shame. More important than Rosemary's low self-esteem is her father's notion that she is incapable of being loved. As a result, family unwittingly perpetuates the rituals of self-doubt usually blamed on shows like Baywatch and rags like Cosmo. The Farrellys tackle issues of female beauty with incredible humanity without ever being ham-fisted.
The film's smooth comic pacing is complimented by Russell Carpenter's spare cinematography, which evokes silent film idiom. The grotesque female grins and cackles are as funny as the jokes that speak for themselves (Hal is wowed by Tony Robbins' size 17 shoes). Most interesting, though, is how the Farrelly Brothers cunningly challenge the spectator's gaze just as Hal's view-askew is nixed by the busybody Mauricio. Hal's hypo-induced vision is cautiously revealed as an all-encompassing one. The film, in effect, becomes as suspenseful as it is deftly funny—indeed, Shallow merits multiple viewings in order to tease out its sweet ambiguities. If characters in prior Farrelly films were grotesque for grotesque's sake, Shallow Hal's oddballs are odd with due cause. As oblivious participants in the Farrelly Brothers' straight-faced beauty game, Hal and the spectator discover that nothing can ever be taken at face value.
Senses of Cinema (Meghan Sutherland) review September 2004
The Boston Phoenix review Jeffrey Gantz
Oh brother! Those goofy Farrelly boys have made a comedy about conjoined twins. Joined at the hip, Walt (Kinnear) and Bob (Damon) are cooks at Quickee Burger in Martha's Vineyard - but Walt, a local am-dram star, has a yen to try his luck in Hollywood. Shy, nervous Bob reluctantly agrees to come along for the ride. In such films as There's Something About Mary and Shallow Hal the Farrellys have boldly plumbed taboos (bodily fluids, IQ scores, lard) to sometimes liberating comic effect, but underneath the gross-out gags you'll always find a heart of purest mush. Lately, that heart's been getting out of hand. This film may be the upbeat, humanist conjoined-twin movie we've all been waiting for, but it could sure use more laughs. To be fair, the film has its moments, but these remain isolated, any comic momentum immediately squandered by the Farrellys' standard cackhanded direction, their politically corrected designs on our sympathy, and by a script pulling in at least two directions at once. Kudos to Cher, totally convincing as a shameless egomaniac going by the name of 'Cher'. It's also moderately amusing (if utterly irrelevant) to see Meryl Streep whooping it up in a climactic musical production of Bonnie and Clyde.
Bobby and Peter Farrelly's latest is a
parable about conjoined twins, and though it lacks the laugh-a-minute comic
mastery of their magnificent Kingpin or Shallow Hal's cutting insights
about body image, Stuck On You is still a big-hearted charmer. They're
joined at the hip and they share a liver, but they've led a relatively normal life
nonetheless in Martha's Vineyards. But brother Walt (Greg Kinnear) aspires for
24fps | Archive Gabe Klinger from 24fps, Winter 2004
Stuck On You Henry Sheenan
Stuck On You (the Farrelly Brothers, 2003) Eric Henderson from When Canses Were Classeled
It doesn't take long for major events to make it to the big screen; you know, wars, assassinations, the Red Sox actually winning! I'm not a big Sox fan, but as Mets fan I have a certain affinity with the loonies from shamrock city, as they at least know enough to despise the Yankees! I liked the Pedro/Manny Sox of '03, and I usually pick 'em in the AL East, but you can't really be a fan of more than one team if you're doing it right. But I digress. The film works in precious little baseball, early, but does establish its credentials by touching the obvious bases. Then it goes all baseball, all the while fairly successfully floating a kind of sappy romance between a happy and helpful (I believe that this is supposed to make him lovable, too) schoolteacher and a budding corporate exec. Fairytale? Well, at least don't say "who cares?" if you're gonna watch it because then there wouldn't be much point. The baseball/romance counterpoint is the key and heart of thing. If you don't like baseball, or hate the Sox, there's not much point. If sappy romances just aren't it for you…I think all Sox fans must enjoy such things, but others who don't should stay away. It's all a cute thing, as much in the concept as in the execution. Drew Barrymore is good but has certainly done better, and Jimmy Fallon is never quite enough for me to hope she gets stuck with him much. I guess his character has room to grow. I mean, yeah, the other guys in her life would obviously be worse, but such are not the elements of true love make. It's all very amiable though, nothing to rave about for or against. Not like Soxmania.
The punning title may try to disguise it, but this is actually the American version of Nick Hornby’s ‘Fever Pitch’, with the football-mad central character now a devotee of the Boston Red Sox baseball team. They had to wait 86 years for their 2004 World Series victory, which would surely make even Arsenal fans wince. Charged with transferring Hornby’s deft North London specifics to New England, A-list Hollywood screenwriting team Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel (‘Splash’, ‘City Slickers’) have kept Sox maniac Jimmy Fallon as a high-school teacher, but changed his love interest to Drew Barrymore’s high-powered, workaholic business exec, who meets him during the team’s winter downtime, thinks he’s adorable, and is thus unprepared to be displaced in his affections by his summer season ticket for Fenway Park. While the original explored the notion of sporting obsession as a refuge from life (for good and ill), here it’s as much a plot point as a passion, since his ‘n’ hers opposing values are played largely for conventional romantic comedy. It’s slickly done, pleasantly watchable, but despite Barrymore’s ever-charming earnestness, not quite a home run. Although there’s a characteristic note of class tension, and we get to see the funny side of food poisoning and concussion, the Farrellys seem on their best behaviour, as if slightly hamstrung by the challenge of working in the classic Hollywood mould. Then again, perhaps they really needed John Cusack, since ‘Saturday Night Live’ alumnus Fallon is far too lightweight a lead; moderately amusing as a man-child fan-boy dressed from the Red Sox gift-shop, but an unpersuasive potential partner for go-getting Drew.
The more elegant Bobby and Peter
Farrelly's films have become, the less money they've managed to rake in at the
box office. That's probably because the Farrellys are growing up faster than
the audiences that tended to their first few features. "From the directors
of There's Something About Mary" simply doesn't promise the same
thing anymore: Audiences know this (see Stuck on You's poor box office
performance for proof), and so does Fox, which is why the Farrelly name is so
hard to find on advertisements for Fever Pitch. The studio is
undoubtedly trying to protect its bottom line, but we should be thankful that
the brothers are still being allowed to make films at all. Based on Nick
Hornby's autobiographical book of the same name, Fever Pitch is somewhat
mundane, at least by the Farrellys' typically high-concept (and high-strung)
standards, but that's not to say the material is innocuous. The film doesn't
actualize some cartoon world or scenario but a real one with real people with
real problems—that everyone talks and cracks jokes just like you and me is not
just the icing on the cake but part of the film's contemporary mantra. Fever
Pitch tells the story of a
The Onion A.V. Club review Scott Tobias
DVD Times Daniel Stephens
The Boston Phoenix review Peter Keough
USA (90 mi) 2013 Official site co-directors: Elizabeth Banks, Steven Brill, Steve Carr, Rusty Cundieff, James Duffy, Griffin Dunne, Patrik Forsberg, James Gunn, Bob Odenkirk, Brett Ratner, Jonathan van Tullekin
America has always had
a love affair with stupid comedy, from an assortment of cartoons to The Three
Stooges or Laurel & Hardy, slapstick and physical comedy that emerged out
of turn of the century burlesque and vaudeville comedy acts, to the hapless
shtick of the elaborately choreographed Jerry Lewis movies of the 50’s and
60’s, the star-studded vehicle of IT’S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD (1963) where
audiences could watch celebrities behave like idiots, to the more fast-paced,
visual and sight gag oriented satirical comedy of AIRPLANE! (1980), to the
moronic buddy movie of DUMB AND DUMBER (1994) written and directed by the Farrelly
brothers, who have never been afraid to use toilet humor. The Farrelly brothers have their hand all
over this project, which began a decade and a half ago with their producer
Charlie Wessler, who came up with the idea of several short films using three
pairs of directors, South Park’s Trey
Parker and Matt Stone, Airplane’s
David and Jerry Zucker, and Peter and Bob Farrelly. The studios, however, wouldn’t back the idea
of R-rated movies targeted to teenagers, where Wessler pitched his idea to
various studios, but no one understood what he was trying to do until four
years ago when Peter Farrelly and producer John Penotti took their idea, along
with the script for about 60 short skits to Relativity Films, which gave them
the green light. Certainly one of the
most amazing feats of the film is collecting so many big name actors, from Kate
Winslet and Hugh Jackman to Halle Berry, Chloë Grace Moretz, Gerard Butler, Greg
Kinnear, Johnny Knoxville, Seann William Scott, Liev Schreiber, Uma Thurman,
Elizabeth Banks, Kristen Bell, Anna Farris, Chris Pratt, Richard Gere, Terrence
Howard, Justin Long, Dennis Quaid, Common, Jason Sudeikis, Kieran Culkin, Emma
Stone, Kate Bosworth, Josh Duhamel, and Naomi Watts. This year’s Academy Award host Seth
MacFarlane plays a small part, while both Jackman and
So working for scale,
actors mostly donated their time for this film, knowing only their own scenes,
not any of the other scaled down 16 vignettes that comprise the film. In order to accommodate all the actors, some
of whom were having second thoughts, like the South Park team, Colin Farrell, and George Clooney, who reportedly
told them to “Fuck Off,” 'Movie
43': Peter Farrelly on His All-Star Cast, and Why Clooney Told Them to 'F**k
Off', shooting took place only when actors were available, waiting an
entire year for Richard Gere, offering the convenience of moving the entire
production team closer to the actor, so the filming of the whole movie took
several years. While this film has
tanked at the box office in only the first week, receiving some of the worst
reviews of the year, where Richard Roeper in The Chicago Sun-Times wrote There's
awful and THEN there's 'Movie 43', while Peter Howell from The Toronto Star is calling it Movie
43 review: The worst film ever gets zero stars. David Edelstein from New York magazine asks, “Was someone holding Kate Winslet's
children hostage?” Edelstein
on Movie 43: Were These Actors Blackmailed to Appear in This Raunchy Fiasco?,
while finally Peter Farrelly took to Twitter to defend his gross-out comedy
dubbed the ‘Citizen Kane of awful’ Movie
43 director tells press to 'lighten up' after his film is savaged ...,
suggesting “To the critics: Movie 43
is not the end of the world. It’s just a $6-million movie where we tried to do
something different. Now back off,” adding: “To the critics: You always
Most of the rest are uneven
and hit or miss, with some stronger than others, but many of these ideas are
*out there,* pushing the boundaries of bad taste to the point of being
off-the-charts unacceptable. Certainly
there is foul humor, profane language, and there is crude violence, but there
are also some excellent special effects, especially with
Blu-ray.com [Brian Orndorf] (excerpt)
I have no idea what the title “Movie 43” means, but I do know what the picture is about. A series of sketches and commercials barely tied together with a flimsy wraparound story, the collection is intended to show off the zanier side of normally sedate talent, pushing Oscar-winners and more dramatically inclined thespians into taboo-smashing blasts of comedy, also making room for a few actors specifically known for their crudeness a chance to join the party. Stacked high with famous faces while the material is primarily bottom-of-the-barrel muck unfit for feature-length investigation, “Movie 43” looks to enchant with a proud parade of shock value, asking ticket buyers to delight in ugliness in the name of good fun. If this is “Movie 43,” I’d hate to see the previous 42 attempts at pronounced stupidity the production didn’t want to release.
Movie 43 | Movie review - Film - Time Out Chicago Ben Kenigsberg
Neither the Kentucky-fried turkey its unceremonious release suggests nor the kind of daring film maudit that seems destined to be reassessed decades hence, Movie 43 is mostly just a whiff. Fourteen absurdly star-studded sketches are all too over- or underplayed to get the laughs they need. Cameos routinely substitute for gags; only the self-satisfaction is a constant. The movie sets the bar low with its framing story, in which a crazy man (Dennis Quaid) delivers his movie pitch to a feckless studio operative (Greg Kinnear). Most of the subsequent segments consist of scenes from his opus, although—with episodes jammed together as awkwardly as shattered Russian dolls—conceptual coherence is not Movie 43’s strongest suit. Ditto quality: For every chapter that elicits a smile (playing a man with scrotum hanging from his neck, Hugh Jackman garners far more sympathy than he does as Jean Valjean), there’s another that’s only theoretically funny (the Brett Ratner–directed bit in which Johnny Knoxville and Seann William Scott taunt Gerard Butler’s kidnapped leprechaun).
The actors are mostly troupers: Liev Schreiber and Naomi Watts seem to enjoy playing the world’s worst homeschooling parents, whose curriculum for their son includes incestuous makeouts. Anna Faris gamely insists that boyfriend Chris Pratt take the next step in their relationship—into coprophila. But the film throws cold water on its proceedings, with sketches that go on too long (“Superhero Speed Dating,” with Jason Sudeikis as a bro-ish Batman taunting Justin Long’s timid Robin) or that wimp out by moralizing (as when Chloë Grace Moretz has a menstrual accident in a house full of dudes). The main instance of inspired outrageousness, in one of the vignettes helmed by producer Peter Farrelly, comes near the end, as Halle Berry’s blind-date round of truth-or-dare with Stephen Merchant escalates into a nasty competition. The results might not please Buñuel, but they add up to one of the few installments worthy of the designation movie.
"Movie 43" Even Less Inspired Than Its Name
Cancel next year’s Razzies. The race is over. Just three weeks into 2013, “Movie 43” already has a vice-like death grip on any and all “worst of” lists or awards for this calendar year, let alone the decade. Much of its high profile cast is justifiably embarrassed by the project, as few have acknowledged the film in the press. And while that silence (and the January release date) speaks volumes, silence isn’t enough. I suspect we’ll eventually hear mea culpas from the likes of Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet, Richard Gere, Greg Kinnear, and others – the project, a loose assemblage of short films, was filmed haphazardly over the course of four years – but each apology will be far too late. If you’re going to go out of your way to be this offensive, you better damn well be funny. “Movie 43” almost never is, and at times it displays an almost alarming level of contempt for its audience. If there’s any justice in this world, some of its participants will lose work over their contributions here.
It’s impossible to write about “Movie 43” as a singular entity, so please allow me to break the film down, short by short, so you can skip the 90% of the film that’s entirely unredeemable. “The Pitch” loosely ties each short film together. Dennis Quaid plays a failed screenwriter pitching a bizarre, nonsensical film to a studio exec, Greg Kinnear, eventually forcing him, at gunpoint, to listen to the remainder of his proposal. It’s such an apt metaphor for the picture itself that I have to believe it was an unknowing one. As we weave in and out of different scenes, rapper Common and Seth McFarlane make humorless cameos as Quaid’s character is pushed to his breaking point.
The first of these scenes, “The Catch,” features Kate Winslet on a first date with Hugh Jackman, the latter playing a dreamy magazine cover model who’s fawned over by everyone but his date. You see, he removes his scarf and it’s revealed that – wait for it – he has testicles growing out of his neck. That’s the joke. For ten painful minutes. Of course, it’s taken to gross extremes – Jackman is a sloppy eater, har har – but the most offensive part about the sequence is that it’s been done at least twice before, both in “Men In Black II” and “South Park.”
“Homeschooled,” starring real-life couple Live Schreiber and Naomi Watts, is the funniest portion of the film. They play parents who are homeschooling their teenage son, but instead of sheltering him, they long to give him “the full high school experience.” Of course, this means they bully, humiliate, and abuse him, and their cruel hazing is amusing until it’s taken way too far. Still, this bit could have been a modest viral hit, and compared to the rest of “Movie 43,” it’s an absolute gem.
“The Proposition,” starring Anna Faris and Chris Pratt, is one overlong, patience-testing excrement joke. Don’t worry, there are plenty of burrito and laxative references! “Veronica,” with Kieran Culkin and Emma Stone, makes no impact at all. The two spend their five minutes of screen time sharing bizarre sexual secrets over the loudspeaker of a grocery store. “iBabe” stars Richard Gere as an executive who doesn’t understand why his company’s mp3 player – shaped like a lifesize naked woman – is crippling young men with its poor fan placement. Insert facepalm here. “Super Hero Speed Dating” features Justin Long, Jason Sudeikis, Kristen Bell, Uma Thurman and others in a “Saturday Night Live” reject sketch about superheroes – or weirdos in low-rent Halloween costumes – saying idiotic things to each other while, you guessed it, speed dating. It’s dead on arrival.
The picture’s most inspired bit, “Machine Kids,” is a faux-PSA about how we should be nicer to printers and vending machines and other frustrating contraptions because there are child laborers living inside them. Wait a few months and catch it in all its peculiar glory on YouTube. “Middleschool Date,” helmed by Elizabeth Banks, is an insipid, laugh-free short about how guys don’t know what to do when girls get their periods. “Happy Birthday,” directed by the critically-adored Brett Ratner and featuring Johnny Knoxville and Seann William Scott in a “Dukes Of Hazzard” reunion – no, we haven’t hit bottom yet – features Gerard Butler as a Leprechaun who confronts the duo over God knows what. Eventually, after multiple Lucky Charms jokes, Knoxville shoots the Leprechauns dead and we move on to the next short.
“Truth Or Dare,” starring Halle Berry and Stephen Merchant, is almost palatable. As two blind-daters, they get themselves into a game of truth or dare that escalates to absurd levels. It’s over-the-top, but it feels like a scene out of a much better film. Terrence Howard leads “Victory’s Glory,” a short about a 60s-era basketball team that doesn’t grasp their coach’s pre-game motivational speech – “They’re white. You’re black!” Rinse and repeat for ten minutes. The final short, written and directed by James Gunn, stars Josh Duhamel, Elizabeth Banks, and an animated cat. Duhamel’s character has a decidedly intimate relationship with his aggressively perverted pet cat, much to the chagrin of Banks. It’s gross and violent and patently unfunny, and it’s unfathomable to me that Marvel has given Gunn the reigns to one of their franchises, “Guardians Of The Galaxy.” His pre-“Movie 43” resume wasn’t particularly deserving of the job, but this short film is absolutely wince-inducing.
The Farrelly Brothers, who oversaw the entire project, will come out of “Movie 43” relatively unscathed. They’ve developed plenty of goodwill through “Dumb And Dumber” and “There’s Something About Mary.” This won’t end their careers. But for some of the cast and crew with more unsteady roles in Hollywood? This is the kind of project that won’t soon be erased from memory. It’s so strikingly, soul-crushingly awful that it could cost Hugh Jackman as Oscar (we’ve seen it happen to Eddie Murphy with “Norbit”) and gifted actors like Winslet and Gere might not be allowed near anything remotely comedic ever again. I want to be embarrassed for everyone involved in this one, but it’s so aggressively dreadful that no one deserves a pass. If there’s one silver lining here? Maybe, just maybe, this will put Brett Ratner out of work for good.
'Movie 43': Peter Farrelly on His All-Star Cast, and Why Clooney Told Them to 'F**k Off' Aly Semigran from Hollywood.com, January 25, 2013
Academy Award winner Kate Winslet. Academy Award winner
Halle Berry. Academy Award
nominee Hugh Jackman. Academy Award
nominee Greg Kinnear. Academy
Award nominee Naomi Watts.
Academy Award host Seth MacFarlane.
Definitely Nowhere Near The Academy Awards Johnny Knoxville and Snooki.
All together on the big screen, at long last. Well, kind of.
The only thing more baffling than trying to make sense of what exactly Movie 43 is about (we'll get to that), is figuring out how in the hell they assembled half of Hollywood to be in a no-holds-barred raunch fest that was made for just around $6 million. Peter Farrelly (the other half of the Farrelly brothers behind comedy classics such as Kingpin, There's Something About Mary, and their masterpiece Dumb and Dumber, as well as its in-the-works sequel) is a producer and one of the dozen directors to contribute to the comedy, which opens in theaters today. Farrelly a simple explanation for all of this: fellow producer Charles Wessler, who has worked with the Brothers Farrelly on all their films.
"It's the brainchild of Charlie Wessler. He'd been talking about this for years, basically what he wanted to do was a Kentucky Fried Movie thing," Farrelly says. After receiving hundreds of submissions and scripts, Wessler settled on roughly forty and then set his sights on some of the biggest names in the business to star.
As Farrelly put it, "The world doesn't know Charlie Wessler, but Charlie Wessler knows everybody. He was a P.A. on Star Wars, he was the assistant to the director on Empire of the Sun. He's done a million things. So he would call actors like Richard Gere and say, 'Hey Richard, you wanna do this short film?' We have no money. You're working for one day for scale, but there's gonna be a lot of laughs."
If that didn't sell the sizzle enough to the all-star cast (which also includes the likes of hot commodities Emma Stone, Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, and Jason Sudeikis, to name just a few), the various directors whole filmed segments of Movie 43 over the span of two years (with different writers and crews, as well), catering to when and where the actors could film. Production even waited a full year for Gere, whose conflicts kept him unavailable for this extended period of time.
While it seemed like a pretty convenient deal for the busy stars participating, there was one A-lister who wasn't swayed by the lure of working on the mysterious Movie 43. "[George] Clooney told us to f**k off," Farrelly admits.
As such, everyone but Clooney (and Colin Farrell, and South Park's Matt Stone and Trey Parker, who each reportedly dropped out of the project along the way) was on board. So what exactly did the stars who stayed put get themselves in to?
Movie 43, a series of short films connected by a wrap-around featuring "Dennis Quaid as a down-and-out producer" pitching crazy ideas, is a very different breed of the big ensemble movie. "My fear with that is people will think it's like a Valentine's Day-type movie," Farrelly says.
Anything but. Movie 43 features a series of gross-out jaw-dropper shorts, including the Farrelly-directed sequence about a woman on a blind date (Winslet) whose suitor (Jackman, pictured above) has it all: good looks, charm, money, and…a pair of testicles that hang from his chin that no one else but her seems to notice. While Farrelly doesn't expect the Oscar-nominated Les Mis star to be out stumping for Movie 43 ("You're not gonna see him at our premiere, he's got things to do"), he and Winslet were all-in for their shoot.
"Hugh and Kate were just sensational because it's such a ballsy little piece." (Get it?!) "They embraced it so much and they were so committed and so into it. There was no hesitation. In fact, it was the other way. Both of them were going off the page doing insane things. They got into the swing of it," Farrelly says of his time with the stars, calling the shoot "two hilariously fun days."
Even with A-listers going, ahem, balls-out, this is a moviegoing generation living in the age of Funny or Die. Nowadays, celebrities taking part in outrageous, image-shattering shorts is not only the norm, but free of charge. "Funny or Die is sensational, I wish I'd started it," Farrelly says, "but they do have restrictions to what you can say and do. We wanted to do something that you can't do on Funny or Die. We wanted to push it past the Funny or Die ceiling."
Farrelly, along with the various directors and producers, also realized that coming up with a Kentucky Fried Movie (which came out in 1977) or Groove Tube (from 1974, which Farrelly cites as another influence as an ensemble sketch comedy movie) for a new era provided another challenge with today's breed of moviegoers. "Things have changed since Kentucky Fried Movie in that attention spans have shortened. You can't just have one short after another. Because then you just have people looking at their watches, like 'All right, I don't know if I want to start another short,'" he says.
Alongside Wessler, fellow producer John Pennotti, and Relativity, Farrelly and co. narrowed down which of the shorts would make it into Movie 43. "There were a couple that didn't make the final cut, we knew that would happen. The reasons they didn't make it is they were either redundant, in that there had been a short that was similar, or it just felt like overkill or trying too hard in trying to shock people. We really tried to find the right rhythm so people wouldn't feel manipulated," Farrelly explains, adding, "It gives us stuff for the DVD."
'Movie 43': On the End of a Non-Era | PopMatters Jesse Hassenger
"Movie 43" Movie Review - Springfield Romantic Comedy ... Kris Duplisea, the only A grade one could find, from The Examiner
Movie 43 | Film Review | Slant Magazine Tina Hassannia
Movie 43 :: Movies :: Reviews :: Paste Tyler Chase
The top 10 stupid comedies for smart people - Salon.com Matt Zoller Seitz from Salon, July 31, 2010
Movie 43: Film Review Frank Scheck from The Hollywood Reporter
STORY: How 'Movie 43' Producers Got So Many A-List Stars for the Raunchy Comedy Rebecca Ford from The Hollywood Reporter
Why 'Movie 43's' A-List Actors Are Staying Far Away - The ... Pamela McClintock from The Hollywood Reporter
Why did so many stars sign up? Catherine Shoard from The Guardian
Movie 43: a gross-out workout Charlie Lyne from The Guardian
Movie 43 director tells critics to 'lighten up' after film bombs at box ... Ben Child from The Guardian
Movie 43 – review Peter Bradshaw from the Guardian
Review: Movie 43 - Reviews - Boston Phoenix Brett Michel
Movie 43: Movie Showtimes and Reviews on washingtonpost.com Michael O’Sullivan
Movie 43 - Film Calendar - The Austin Chronicle Kimberley Jones
Movie 43 :: rogerebert.com - Roger Ebert - Chicago Sun-Times "Movie 43" is the "Citizen Kane" of awful
Fassbinder had a unique relationship to his nation's history. He saw his oeuvre as a history of 20th-century Germany, culminating with BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ, with its exploration of the 1920’s Berlin underclass in such personal detail (in 15 and one-half hours), a film that succeeds with its authenticity, allowing us to understand what it was like to have been a German in an era leading to the rise of Hitler. One of the better writers in cinema who was not afraid to explore the ugly, seamier side of human nature, dramatically exploring dark ulterior motives in the personal search for love, usually with enormously tragic consequences, but without all the graphic violence that explodes off the screen today. As fellow viewer Fred Tsao was known to utter after each performance: “The punishment continues.” Paraphrasing and even stealing some written material, much of the information gathered here is gleaned from the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) booklet that accompanied the showing of 37 films entitled Rainer Werner Fassbinder, published in 1977, edited by Laurence Kardish, in collaboration with Juliane Lorenz, Fassbinder’s film editor. [Curator’s essay: MoMA.org | Film & Media Exhibitions | 1997 | Fassbinder | essay]
I've always been fond
of personal anecdotes from filmmaker's lives. Before Fassbinder made his
first film at the age of 20 in the spring of 1966, he failed the
entrance exam to the German Film and
application forms, out of which 245 submitted timely applications. There
was an age requirement of 23 to 28, but exceptions were taken into
consideration with accompanying recommendations, proof of employment, samples
of their work, etc. Fassbinder sent neither recommendations nor proof of
employment. Instead he wrote: "I am an actor but I only just
had the opportunity of taking final exams at the Theater Association. The
Fassbinder was one of 74 applicants invited to take the entrance exams in Berlin, from May 23rd to the 26th in 1966, which included both a written exam and an exercise with an 8mm camera, where they were given film with instructions to make a work of less than 8 minutes which would be comprehensible without sound. Unfortunately, Fassbinder's submittal film has not survived, but his test questions and answers have. The first part consisted of 26 questions, while the next part was an analysis of a sequence in a feature film. The applicants were presented with a sequence from Bresson's A MAN ESCAPED (1956). The title was not revealed. The test required careful observation of detail, recognition of style, description of how it was achieved, and an overall evaluation.
The filmed sequence shows a prisoner's unsuccessful escape from a prison van, from the first attempt to the last consequence. The sequence consists of about forty setups, each one clear and simple, with no regard for superficial beauty.
Each setup makes sense only in connection with the preceding one and the one that succeeds it.
The necessary prerogatives for the escape - the fugitive, his hand, the door handle inside the car, a vehicle and a streetcar which force, or almost force, the prison van to stop - are clearly shown in their interrelationships. In relatively quick succession, we see first the fugitive, who stares ahead; then the road, where in a moment a vehicle may force the prison van to stop; then the fugitive's hand reaching for the door handle.
Up to the moment of the escape, the setups change fairly rapidly; later they markedly slow down, as the main character is forced from activity into passivity. He has had little time for his flight, the police have ample time for his punishment.
The immense power of the police and the actual importance of the escape is less evident in the last setups with the battered fugitive than during the flight, where the other two prisoners don't even turn their heads when the shots ring out behind them.
With great sensitivity, the director refrains from showing the brutality visited on the escapee, who is carried, covered up on a stretcher. It is left to the viewer to use his imagination to picture the beaten-up man, so that later, when he sees the distorted, bloody face, he is not totally overcome by horror but is able to reflect on his attitude to such treatment.
The sequence has been thought through down to the smallest detail. It has been stripped of everything superfluous. The director sticks to the essentials.
Germany in Autumn Gregory Avery from Nitrate Online (excerpt)
Between 1969 and the end of 1979, Fassbinder made thirty-four
feature films. Robert Katz wrote that this averaged to about one film every 100
days. And these were no slapdash efforts, either, in which the director jumped
from one project to the next, collecting his pay cheque. (For one thing, the
projects were mostly state-financed, and not awash with money.) Fassbinder's
film output included literary adaptations, period pieces, a foray into
science-fiction, political dramas, personal stories depicting the dynamics of
heterosexual and homosexual relationships, cinéma-vérité,
documentaries, and hommages to gangster and the "women's
picture" genres. Fassbinder also produced Kurt Raab's screenplay
"Tenderness of the Wolves," based on the Düsseldorf child murders,
which Raab also starred in and which gave Ulli Lommel, an actor for Fassbinder,
his first chance to direct a film. While setting up production on his film,Chinese
Roulette, Fassbinder arranged to share studio space and some of his cast
for the film, plus cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, so that Lommel could make Adolf
and Marlene, a purple fantasy in which Hitler entices the famous film star
into coming back to
"Well, there are two factors here," Fassbinder explained in interview, after he had completed his fortieth film. "First, I don't work more than other people, more than someone stamping out cans in a factory, or the like. I just work all year long; I don't take as many vacations as the others in the [film] industry. That's one side of it. The other side is that I really have a drive that's hard to explain -- it makes me have to do things, and I'm actually only happy when I'm doing things...."
At such a pace, Fassbinder's personal and professional life
inexorably overlapped. After the departure of Christoph Rosen, Fassbinder
became smitten with Günther Kaufmann, whom he cast in the lead of Whity,
a real oddball of a film which was made in
Irm Hermann, who was an actress in many of Fassbinder's films (most notably in The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant), became smitten with Fassbinder and set her sights on marrying him, but she was beaten to the punch on that account -- by singer Ingrid Caven, who became Frau Fassbinder in 1970, after which she, Rainer, and Günther all went on the honeymoon trip together. The marriage, though, did not last; Fassbinder would later refer to the state of matrimony as "a sadomasochistic relationship." Irm would end up marrying someone else.
El Hedi ben
The sturdy, supportive Armin Meier, who was born and raised in the country, would seem to be as fine a person as anyone would want to have in a serious relationship. But Armin wound up totally out of his depth with Fassbinder's friends and, sometimes, with Fassbinder himself. He refused, for instance, to let Armin attend the premiere of Germany in Autumn. At the Reichenbachstrasse apartment, Armin sat in the big chair in the kitchen, where Fassbinder would sit and receive visitors on the weekends, and consumed the contents of four bottles of sleeping tablets. Juliane Lorenz was the only one who maintained that Armin's death was in some way accidental.
Is He Fassbinder? Gregory Avery from Nitrate Online (excerpt)
Querelle was portentously advertised as being
"Fassbinder's final statement." It was not, nor was it ever intended
to be. Filming was all set to start in June on I Am the Happiness of This
World: Harry Baer had found a club that could serve as the film's main
location not far from Peer Raben's flat in
Further installments in the "BRD" series of films
Fassbinder was giving filmed interviews to Wolf Griem for a documentary Griem was making, The Wizard of Babylon, and had played the lead in Griem's cockeyed detective film, Kamikaze '89. (Fassbinder liked the leopard-spotted clothes that he wore in the film so much that he was allowed to keep them, and wore them the day Andy Warhol visited the set of Querelle. Warhol designed the poster for the premiere of "Querelle.")
Fassbinder had also been talking with Jane Fonda about her
appearing in a film about Rosa Luxemburg, who formed the Spartacus League and
attempted to start a worker's revolution in
Early on the morning on
After checking Fassbinder, she phoned for an ambulance and woke up Wolf Griem, who was sleeping in another part of the apartment. When the ambulance arrived, a paramedic walked into the apartment, into Fassbinder's room, and knelt by the mattress. After examining the filmmaker, he stated, "This man is dead." Adding, "Is he Fassbinder?"
Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation run by Juliane Lorenz
Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation Thomas Elsaesser writes an essay for the Fassbinder Foundation, listed under His Life
more Wolfram Schütte writes an essay for the Fassbinder Foundation listed under His Art
Film Reference profile by John O’Kane
Rainer Werner Fassbinder Joe Ruffell from Senses of Cinema, May 2002
Biography/Filmography from Books and Writers
All-Movie Guide bio from Lucia Bozzola
New German Cinema brief bio with interesting German and English links
glbtq >> arts >> Fassbinder, Rainer Werner biography from an encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer culture
filmportal.de another bio with links
Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Journal an open site for Fassbinder related news
Feature: Beware of Rainer Werner Fassbinder reviews of a dozen or so Fassbinder films from Slant magazine
Mondo Digital reviews of a dozen or so Fassbinder films
Fassbinder an analysis of readings and films by Fassbinder from Acquarello from Strictly Film School
Fassbinder on TCM Shop a quick capsule review of a dozen Fassbinder films out on DVD
Jim's Reviews / Fassbinder Introduction to Fassbinder, film and theater credits, analysis and resources from Jim’s Reviews
A Date With Fassbinder and Despair 3 part series on Fassbinder by Philip Lopate from Cultural Report (undated)
UC users only (it is available) Fassbinder: The Poetry of the Inarticulate, by Paul Thomas from Film Quarterly (Winter, 1976-1977)
Fassbinder Death Tied To Pills and Drug Use The New York Times, June 19, 1982
Movie Review - - FILM VIEW; HANNA SCHYGULLA ACHIEVES GREATNESS ... The New York Times, October 7, 1984
FILM: 'A MAN LIKE EVA' Vincent Canby film review of Eva Matte in the title role as Fassbinder, from The New York Times, June 26, 1985
TV VIEW; FASSBINDER'S MASTERWORK John J. O.Connor on upcoming cable TV broadcasts of Berlin Alexanderplatz, from The New York Times, September 8, 1985
Holy Whore: Remembering Rainer Werner Fassbinder website and essay by Jim Tushinski, August 21, 1987
Fassbinder's Brechtian aesthetics H-B. Moeller essay from Jump Cut, April 1990
Movie Review - Schatten Der Engel - Review/Film; Fassbinder And ... Janet Maslin’s review of Shadow of Angels, the 1976 film version of a “suicidally grim” Fassbinder play, from The New York Times, March 6, 1992
MoMA | press | Releases | 1996 | First Complete Retrospective in ... MOMA Fassbinder retrospective Press release
Rainer Werner Fassbinder Cover Page for online 1997 exhibit from MOMA
MoMA.org | Film & Media Exhibitions | 1997 | Fassbinder | essay Curator’s essay by Laurence Kardish
Honoring Fassbinder The Director, Not the Man Vincent Canby on a Fassbinder Retrospective, from The New York Times, January 19, 1997
The Parasites of Fame Peter W. Jansen from Der Tagesspiegel, January 23, 1997, from the Fassbinder Foundation website
3 Who Worked With Fassbinder Recall a Demon And a Magician Mel Gussow from The New York Times, January 27, 1997
[Luc Sante] A Holy Whore, which
includes brief film clips,
Film Fast, Die Young Jerry Johnson from the Austin Chronicle, September 1998
The bitter tears of Fassbinder's women Rosalind Hodgkiss from the Guardian, January 8, 1999
FILM REVIEW; Leopold & Franz & Anna & Vera in Berlin A.O. Scott’s review of Fassbinder’s unproduced play, Water Drops on Burning Rocks, from The New York Times, July 12, 2000
Nitrate Online (Gregory Avery) The Sad Days Are Over, a 4 part essay examining Fassbinder’s career, November 17, 2000
FAST TIMES Is America Finally Ready for Fassbinder? by David Denby from The New Yorker, February 10, 2003
FASSBINDER 6-week Retrospective Film
Series at Film Forum in New York City
February 14 –
The Boston Phoenix [Peter Keough] 9-film
UC users only (it is available) “Straight from the Heart: Re-Viewing the Films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder,” Cineaste (Fall 2004) by Tony Pipolo (pdf)
Rainer Werner Fassbinder | TIME Europe Magazine | 60 Years of Heroes Richard Corliss from Time magazine, 2006
Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Wunderkind Leo A. Lensing from The Times Literary Supplement, April 18, 2007, posted on the Fassbinder Foundation
Battle over RWF's legacy.
GreenCine reports allegations that the remastered film has been
“markedly brightened” for public palatability,
No morals without style Ingrid Caven challenges the historical misrepresentations by Juliane Lorenz, the founder of the Fassbinder Foundation site as she speaks to Katja Nicodemus from Die Zeit, recently translated into English at Sign and Sight (May 31, 2007)
GreenCine Article (2007) June 10, 2007
Fassbinder from Film Comment, which posted a statement from 25 of Fassbinder’s colleagues demanding that Juliane Lorenz forfeit control of the Fassbinder Foundation. They cite her image contrast changes on the Berlin Alexanderplatz DVD as "an act of insurmountable presumption and borders on philistinism." (September/October 2007)
P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center: Exhibitions: Fassbinder: Berlin ... Fassbinder: Berlin Alexanderplatz, October 21, 2007 – January 21, 2008
The New German Cinema Dennis Toth from Film Notes from the CMA, August 14, 2008
Fassbinder: Life on the Edge Dennis Toth from Film Notes from the CMA, August 18, 2008
*European Film Star Postcards*: Barbara Valentin April 16, 2009
The Fassbinder Page Tom von Logue Newth from FilmFracture, September 28, 2009
Film - A Bold Vision, Still Ahead of Its Time Dennis Lim from The New York Times, April 1, 2010
Fassbinder's Visionary Science-Fiction Thriller to Have a Weeklong ... Art Daily, April 5, 2010
R.W. Fassbinder, Twisted Genius John Farr from The Huffington Post, June 13, 2010
The Films Of Rainer Werner Fassbinder: A Retrospective | The Playlis Retrospective reviews from The Playlist, July 29, 2011
Fassbinder 16-Film Rainer Werner Fassbinder Retrospective at The American Cinematheque, Los Angeles, by Tom von Logue Newth from FilmFracture, May 28, 2012
Fassbinder A Stupendous Weekend of Fassbinder at The American Cinematheque - More To Come, by Tom von Logue Newth from FilmFracture, June 4, 2012
Fassbinder Rainer Fassbinder Retrospective (Nearly) Over at The American Cinematheque, by Tom von Logue Newth from FilmFracture, June11, 2012
Fassbinder, R.W. They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They
Interview with Hanna Schygulla about Fassbinder by Susan Sontag from the Village Voice, February 26 – March 4, 2003
An Interview with Juliane Lorenz (Senses of Cinema) Dreams of Fassbinder, interview by Maximilian Le Cain and Chris Neill, October 2003
Fassbinder: The Life and Work of a Provocative Genuis Louis Goyette reviews Christian Braad Thomsen’s latest book, from Offscreen August 31, 2004
from Ingrid Caven: A Novel Jean-Jacques Schuhl from Rouge
10 favorite films Criterion Collection posted a list of Fassbinder’s Ten favorite films, compiled in the last year of his life
Short film clip with Fassbinder's editor Julianne Lorenz (45 seconds) on YouTube
CITY TRAMP (Der Stadtstreicher) B 86
Fassbinder's second short film (the first is lost), an existential silent comedy about a tramp who finds a gun and then tries, unsuccessfully, to dispose of it.
1982 Gregory Avery from Nitrate Online (excerpt)
With the help of Christoph Rosen, the young man who became his first companion, Fassbinder made three short films during 1966-67, two of which still exist. The City Tramp is about a vagrant who finds a revolver but can't get rid of it, and its story was inspired by Eric Rohmer's 1959 film, La Signe du Lion (The Sign of Leo).
1982 Gregory Avery from Nitrate Online (excerpt)
A Little Chaos concerns three friends, one of whom is played by Fassbinder, who sell door-to-door subscriptions as a way of gaining access to people's homes to burglarize them. It was made as a homage to Jean-Luc Godard's Vivre sa Vie (My Life to Live), which Fassbinder claimed to have seen twenty-one times. At the conclusion of A Little Chaos, the three main characters talk about what they're going to do with the money they now have, and Fassbinder's character exultantly says, "I'm going to the cinema!"
My first film from Rainer Werner
Fassbinder is a nine-minute short, one of the director's earliest efforts. The
film follows three youths, caught up in the rebellious counter-culture of the
1960s, who decide to supplement their meagre incomes (selling magazine
subscriptions door-to-door) by orchestrating a home robbery. The three aspiring
criminals – played Christoph Roser, Marite Greiselis and Fassbinder himself –
bust into the home of a frightened woman (Greta Rehfeld), and demand her money.
The characters, particularly Fassbinder's Franz, do plenty of over-the-top
posturing, no doubt in homage to the James Cagney-style of acting that dominated
gangster movies of the 1930s and 1940s (the film even references this sub-genre
of Hollywood film-making, musing that "I'd like to see a gangster movie
that ends well, for once"). The scene of a home invasion surprisingly
called to mind 'A Clockwork Orange (1971),' though I don't know how likely it
is that Stanley Kubrick received inspiration from the amateur work of an
emerging German director.
Though 'The Little Chaos (1966)' was undoubtedly shot on a limited budget, and the cinematography certainly betrays these limitations, Fassbinder does know how to position his camera, alternating between close-up static shots and more dynamic hand-held pans. The film opens with a long zoom across a road, as an enigmatic jazz tune overwhelms the soundtrack, suggesting the brand of classy crime capers that became popular in the 1960s. The acting is adequate enough, though certainly not authentic. Fassbinder mugs determinedly to the camera, a faux tough-guy who perpetually seems to have a foul odour beneath his nostrils. Roser's character is much more tender and introverted, a likable enough guy who's obviously been roped into something in which he desires no part. The film ends with "I Can't Control Myself" by The Troggs on the soundtrack, followed by the wail of police sirens. The three petty criminals will probably get away with it this time, but one gets the feeling that they won't be so fortunate on their next venture.
LOVE IS COLDER THAN DEATH (Liebe ist kälter als der Tod) B+ 92
“Here are people who can’t get started, who have been put down, and for whom nothing is possible.”
A restless and sombre foray into the b/w world of the Hollywood gangster film as interpreted by B-movie mavericks such as Sam Fuller, and ex-Cahiers iconoclasts such as Godard, here stripped bare by Fassbinder to reveal the cold underlying mechanism of love, death, loneliness, friendship, hate, betrayal and manipulation. Shot on a pfennig budget, this - his first feature - is both an assured 'revolutionary' critique of genre, and at the same time a constantly searching experiment in style and treatment. The plot? For what it is worth, the worn-leather-jacket-and-boots, chain-smoking ex-con and pimp (Fassbinder) refuses the brutal 'persuasions' of the Syndicate, befriends a felt hat and raincoat (Lommel), only to be betrayed by a jealous prostitute lover (Schygulla) in an attempted bank robbery. In this bleak world of bare sets, static camera shots, and stylised acting, was awkwardly born one of the greatest 'lives in film' the cinema has seen.
In Rainer Werner Fassbinder's first feature film, from 1969, Franz, a freelance gangster (the grungy Fassbinder himself, then twenty-three), brings Bruno, a pretty-boy gunman (Ulli Lommel, an Alain Delon look-alike) into his ambiguous ménage with the prostitute Johanna (a young and overripe Hanna Schygulla). They track down and rub out a thug who has falsely accused Franz of murder and discover that they like it. Scene after scene and shot after shot recall the French New Wave masterworks that inspired Fassbinder, but the grim humor and the deadpan Brechtian stylings (the film was produced by the director's own so-called "antitheatre" in Munich) are entirely his own. In Fassbinder's blasted post-'68 landscape of lost ideals, the New Wave's philosophical flights of fancy give way to a mannered, proto-punk despair: the stark, cynical view of power relations of sex, money, and violence and the sadomasochistically romantic delight in the resulting cruelties would mark the director's entire meteoric career. In German.
Love is Colder Than Death was Rainer Werner Fassbinder's first feature-length film (he had directed two shorts three years earlier: The Little Tramp and The Little Chaos), the story of a small-time pimp, Franz (Fassbinder), and his complicated relationship with his prostitute girlfriend, Joanna (Hanna Schygulla), and a criminal associate, Bruno (Ulli Lommel), who mysteriously and erotically enters their lives. Had the film been made at a later point in Fassbinder's all-too brief but remarkably illustrious and prolific career, the film's static aesthetic could have been read as a deliberate attempt on the director's part to show his critics that his camera need not move on inch to convey the same rapturous feeling of his greater films. Except Love is Colder Than Death is not a great Fassbinder film. Narratively and experimentally, it's neither exciting nor groundbreaking; since Fassbinder was still obviously trying to hone his signature Brechtian aesthetic, it may come as a surprise that the film echoes the French New Wave (namely Jean-Luc Godard's lyrical, postmodern masterpiece Band of Outsiders) than it does the cinema of Douglas Sirk. Essentially a glorified Calvin Klein advert, the rigorously symmetrical Love is Colder Than Death is drunk on vacuous posturing though you may be taken aback by the beautiful, unexpected shifts in register throughout (there's a half dozen scenes in which Fassbinder allows his camera to move sideways or forward in tandem with the filmic action, and every single one of these movements feels like a rapturous release from the film's otherwise stringent aesthetic). The film's blanched look evokes a heavenly realm where Franz and Joanna's love is constantly compromised by Bruno's threatening third wheel. When Lommel isn't rising alluringly into frame between Fassbinder and Schygulla, he points his gun at the empty space before him. There's no physical target per se, but Fassbinder's chic cuts-on-action repeatedly suggest that Schygulla's Joanna is the object of the man's secret scorn. These disquieting moments evoke a strange and complex sexual relationship between the film's characters—one that is bound to end in typically ravishing, Fassbinderian betrayals.
Love is Colder Than Death Jim’s Reviews
Liebe ist kälter als der Tod (Love Is Colder Than Death) Tom von Logue Newth from FilmFracture, June 15, 2011
VideoVista review Gary McMahon
Turner Classic Movies dvd review a compilation of capsule reviews
DVD Times Noel Megahey, reviews the 9-disc Region 2 DVD release, The Rainer Werner Fassbinder Commemorative Collection Volume 1
KATZELMACHER A- 94
“In my films, there shouldn’t be feelings that people have already digested or absorbed; the film should create new ones instead.”
Fear and loathing in the mean streets of suburban Munich, where all behaviour obeys the basest and most basic of drives, and fleeting allegiances form and re-form in almost mathematically abstract permutations until disrupted by the advent of an immigrant Greek worker (played by Fassbinder himself; the title is a Bavarian slang term for a gastarbeiter, implying tomcatting sexual proclivities) who becomes the target for xenophobic violence. Fassbinder's sub-Godardian gangster film début, Love is Colder than Death, was dismissed as derivative and dilettanté-ish; this second feature, based on his own anti-teater play, won immediate acclaim. It still seems remarkable, mainly for Fassbinder's distinctive, highly stylised dialogue and minimalist mise-en-scène that transfigures a cinema of poverty into bleakly triumphant rites of despair.
Katzelmacher changed many people's
lives when it came out. One has to wonder how exponential the effects were, but
the waves that films like this make are usually much greater than most viewers
can fathom. (For example, although very few people are familiar with John
Cassavetes' Shadows, that film affected Martin Scorsese profoundly.)
In the interesting documentary, I Don't Just Want You To Love Me, Fassbinder claims that he didn't move the camera much during this time for aesthetic reasons. His cinematographer (Dietrich Lohmann), however, says that aesthetics had little to do with it; they simply couldn't easily move the bulky camera and dolly, and they had no budget to rent better equipment.
This film is part of an experimental avalanche, and it is amazing. The particular art house feel is a result of the times, and as Fassbinder moves on it is fascinating to contemplate how he gets his message across, using different styles. He was truly fearless, and all of his stuff is worth serious consideration.
Katzelmacher becomes even more interesting after viewing his later work.
A batch of Munich deadbeats spend the days bitching,
smoking, drinking beer and fucking each other (mostly for money), until the
arrival of a young Greek immigrant gives their petty cruelty a new focus --
ranging from rape to communism, gossip ferments until it makes the fellas take
a break from leaning against the building railing to tap dance on the
outsider's face. Very much a spawn of his Anti-Theatre sensibility, Rainer
Werner Fassbinder's follow-up to his debut Love is Colder Than Death is
all blank walls, blunt alienation and deadpan puckishness. Adapting his on his
own play, Fassbinder (who plays the Greek lunk) sheathes a generation's
post-war prejudice and despair in rootless posing and unbudging camera setups
-- the group's social-spiritual deadness, recorded in static long takes, is
razzed in mock-ethereal reverse tracking shots across the courtyard,
accompanied by some unseen Schubertian tickling. The theme is dislocated ennui,
but the director keeps things harshly droll, steering his
bored-insouciant-witty troupe (including such future staples as Hanna
Schygulla, Irm Hermann and Harry Baer) in and out of their microdramas and,
Godard-style, making something out of nothing (a couple stripping in a tiny
bare room with only a mattress on the floor and a drawing on the wall, an
argument pitched over a meal, Elga Sorbas doing a little song around an
imaginary spotlight). Cinematography by Dietrich Lohmann. With Lilith Ungerer,
Okay, this is a cheat, since I have not yet made a list for 1969, but I wanted to jot a few thoughts down before I forgot them. Contrary to its middling reputation, Katzelmacher is a pivotal work in RFW's oeuvre. It's pretty much the exact moment when his major influences come together. There is a stark visual and temporal economy that harks back to his tutelage with Straub and Huillet. There are the crisp black-and-white images, frontal blocking, and slimy, slutty underworld ambiance of Andy Warhol. But now, thrown into the mix for what I think is the very first time is Fassbinder's Sirk jones. In Katzelmacher, we see a host of pathetic back-biting bums and sluts (or both), essentially the sort of folks who we used to call "white trash" back home in Texas, before that became a classist epithet. They turn tricks, nurse pipe-dreams about movie stardom, talk shit about each other behind their backs, but mostly sit on the wall until they get thirsty and go to the pub. The only thing that can bring (most of) them together is an outsider, in this case Fassbinder himself playing a Greek Gastarbeiter with a shaky command of German. It's here that Fassbinder the writer-director first lays down his major moves, pushing social commentary right to the brink of believability. The "villains" speak in slogans and received ideas, all the better to get the point across. But unlike some desiccated leftist exercise, Katzelmacher lends a sad pathos to the hatred, as if (as in actual works by Brecht and Sirk) the racists are saying and doing what they have to do, paying lip- and fist-service to ideologies they themselves can't even fully commit to. After being a bit frustrated with some of the early films (Love is Colder Than Death, Gods of the Plague), Katzelmacher was an astonishing kick in the teeth. Fassbinder the Master Filmmaker starts here.
Katzelmacher Jim’s Reviews
VideoVista review Paul Higson
Strictly Film School Acquarello
Turner Classic Movies dvd review a compilation of capsule reviews
DVD Times Noel Megahey, reviews the 9-disc Region 2 DVD release, The Rainer Werner Fassbinder Commemorative Collection Volume 1
GODS OF THE PLAGUE (Götter der Pest) B 89
“ GODS OF THE PLAGUE is a rather precise film about the feeling of a certain period of time, the way things really were in that peculiar postrevolutionary era of 1970.”
Time Out review Geoff Andrew
Remade (in more impressive form) as The American Soldier later the same year, Fassbinder's early gangster movie is slow, absurd, and quite mesmerising. Baer's the pretty criminal 'hero' who gradually sinks back into his underworld ways by hanging around with the wrong types: card-playing crooks and layabouts with trenchcoats and ever-present cigarettes, fickle molls hanging languorously on the sidelines. Any social comment is implicit rather than explicit, the world depicted is related more closely to classic American noir than any contemporary reality, and there is very little plot indeed. But it's a witty, stylish meditation on the genre, filtered through the decidedly dark and morbid sensibility of its director.
Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Gods of the Plague picks up where Love Is Colder Than Death left off (in between both projects he helmed the successful Katzelmacher), this time with a lot less preening and not a whole lot of gumption. Franz (now played by Harry Baer) is released from prison and makes plans to rob a local supermarket with the help of "Gorilla" (Fassbinder's longtime lover Günther Kaufman in his first screen appearance), a Bavarian criminal who killed his brother. After a quick visit with Joanna (still played by the one and only Hanna Schygulla), Franz shacks up with the gorgeous Margarethe (Margarethe Von Trotta), who ultimately gangs up with Joanna in order to betray him. Gods of the Plague suffers from a curious identity crisis. If the film isn't quite successful as a noir exercise (had Fassbinder tilted his camera a few degrees to the side, we could have been watching any number of Welles classics), it's probably because there's a conflict of styles here. The film is tightly composed for much of its running time, but this rigorous framing doesn't so much evoke the claustrophobic allure of some of the best noir classics as much as it points to Fassbinder's bare-bones art direction budget. If not as accomplished as Love Is Colder Than Death, Gods of the Plague is dignified by an irresistible and emotional softness. The narrative is random and disposable, which means you'll have to settle for the allure of the film's many women. Fassbinder can summon the nurturing love of a mother for a son with as little as a delicate overhead shot and he can fabulously suggest the power of a woman over a man by simply lingering on her unavoidable and imposing gaze (see the picture-cum-advertisement in Margarethe's apartment that threatens Franz and Gorilla with its curious invitation: "Have a Cool Blonde Harp"). And in Schygulla's conflicted chanteuse, Fassbinder channels for the first time the spirit of the infamous blond Venus Marlene Dietrich summoned so many times for Josef von Sternberg. The film's women live so we can have our Lola and Veronika Voss. Never trust a blonde…or something like that.
Gods of the Plague Jim’s Reviews
VideoVista review Gary McMahon
Turner Classic Movies dvd review a compilation of capsule reviews
DVD Times Noel Megahey, reviews the 9-disc Region 2 DVD release, The Rainer Werner Fassbinder Commemorative Collection Volume 1
WHY DOES HERR R. RUN AMOK? (Warum läuft Herr R. Amok) B 87
Fassbinder's first color film, based on an idea at age 17, using a spare dramatic style, improvised dialogue and action, a clinically detailed, satirical examination of the supposedly perfect, suburban middle class as represented by the bored, bland, complacent life of Kurt Raab, who is anything but boring in Fassbinder’s hands as the prevailing order is crying out for a little chaos, leading to the ultimate alienation, which is observed with utter calm, sort of a case study for MERCHANT OF FOUR SEASONS with minimal action, a follow up to LOVE IS COLDER THAN DEATH, as emotions express weakness in this world.
Using anti-theatre regulars Peer Raben, Hanna Schygulla, Irm Hermann, and his wife, Ingrid Caven, as well as the bored, bland, overweight, and supposedly happily married Kurt Raab as Herr R, who can't stand to listen to his wife, Lilith Ungerer, and her friends, particularly Irm Hermann, always cast in the most negative light by Fassbinder, who finds a way to utilize candleholders to extract her punishment. Herr R, a likeable office worker with a family, calmly picks up an ornate lamp one evening and bludgeons his wife, child and neighbor, then just as calmly, shows up for work the next morning. A variation of this same theme is used by Chantal Akerman in JEANNE DIELMAN (1975), though meticulously perfected into a complete work of art by Akerman, this appears largely experimental in Fassbinder's hands, as much of what we see seems as if we may still be in the rehearsal stage. As Fred Tsao says, "The punishment continues..."
Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1970):
“In KATZELMACHER we wanted to offer an alternative viewpoint through the style, and in AMOK through the use of color as well; the audience should understand the content and see that it relates to them, while at the same time, through the form by which it is communicated, they gain some distance so they can reflect on what they’re seeing.”
Made for about $10,000, this 1970 provocation by Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Michael Fengler stars Kurt Raab (The Stationmaster's Wife) as a character with the same name--a moody, misfit draftsman at a German architectural firm who grows increasingly alienated from his workplace, his neighbors, his parents, and his bourgeois wife (Lilith Ungerer). As did Sinclair Lewis in Babbitt, Fassbinder navigates carefully between mockery and empathy, heightening the interior drama with his superior staging: in almost every key scene, the chattering characters become white noise as we focus on the silent sufferer in the room. With Franz Maron and Hanna Schygulla. 88 min.
Co-directed by the young Fassbinder (then only 25 years old)
with his friend and producer Michael Fengler, 'Herr R.' shows Fassbinder's
tendency to get up the nose of the middle class.
Here, in opposition to his more characteristically considered style, a shaky hand-held camera eavesdrops on the eponymous Herr R.(played to perfection by the great Kurt Raab) who is tediously seen at his work, with his wife, during a visit from his parents and the like, while slowly unwinding inside.
Long takes predominate and we are also let into the life of Herr R.'s pretty but equally vapid wife for whom he, in a most affecting scene, buys a record without knowing the singer or song title - much to the shameless merriment of the shop-girls who serve him. Fassbinder keeps the tension tightly wound throughout and it is this knowing sense of what to show and when to withhold that gives the greatest indication that this is the work of a man who was to become one of
No doubt, many will find the extreme sense of realism and boredom too oppressive but 'Herr R.' has proved to be highly influential on a much later generation of film-makers and still retains the power to provoke and unsettle.
The first scene in Rainer Werner Fassbinder's mysterious, mesmerizing Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? (1970) has four co-workers telling silly, rather stupid jokes. The first four jokes pass by with nary a raised eyebrow, but the fifth one is a joke about a man strangling his wife.
That's a clue as to how the rest of the movie is going to go. It's a series of unstructured, almost innocuous scenes that could almost be arranged in any order.
In another early scene, our hero Herr R. (Kurt Raab) and his wife (Lilith Ungerer) are having a drink with a friend. The friend is played by the beautiful, playfully determined Hanna Schygulla, a familiar face in Fassbinder's work (she would go on to play the title role in his most celebrated film, the 1979 The Marriage of Maria Braun).
Schygulla's character talks about being free and single, being able to go where she wants and to do what she wants. In another Fassbinder film, the camera might follow her off to some adventure. But in this one, we never see her again.
Instead, we're plunked right down into the middle of Herr R.'s facile existence and his numbing daily problems. His son is having problems at school. He invites a boring friend over for drinks. He tries to find a record in a music shop while the teenage shopgirls quietly make fun of him.
These scenes occur mainly in long, unbroken takes; I doubt that this 88-minute movie has more than 20 individual shots. Within each, Fassbinder points his camera wherever his mood carries him.
Finally, Herr R. runs amok. It's a scene of almost shocking nonchalance, punctuated by ennui and annoyance rather than rage or violence.
Which brings us back to the title. Fassbinder continually shows us moments that Herr R. does not see; we understand that he is not particularly well liked or admired, but he may not see this. So what triggers him?
Perhaps the answer is not really in the film, which is why Fassbinder asks the audience with the title. Heaven help you if you know the answer.
Turner Classic Movies Jeff Stafford
Man kills entire family and himself". How often have we
read a newspaper headline like that and wondered what triggered that final act
of madness? When there are no survivors to question, we can only speculate
based on the press coverage but, in the end, we can never really know why.
German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder doesn't provide any easy answers
either in Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? (1970), the tale of a seemingly
successful, middle-class family man who suddenly snaps one day, killing his
wife, a visiting neighbor and his son, before taking his own life. But long
before we witness that climactic act of violence, there are telltale signs along
the way that trouble is brewing at home and at work.
Shot in a mere thirteen days in
Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? was said to have strongly influenced Danish director Lars Von Trier who owes a debt to this film, which in many ways prefigures some of the tenets of his Dogme 95 film movement - hand-held cinematography, shooting in real locations with available light, natural sound with no added musical score or effects, and an avoidance of genre clichés. Unlike the stylized theatricality of Fassbinder's earlier Katzelmacher (1969) which was adapted from a play, Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? has a cinema-verite quality and most of the dialogue was improvised. All of the actors also address each other by their real first names. According to writer Ronald Hayman in his book Fassbinder: Filmmaker the director "probably knew he was more likely to get the performance he wanted from Kurt Raab if he cast Lilith Ungerer as his wife. She was an antitheater actress Raab had always disliked...These provocations may seem petty, but they must have reinforced the concentration of petty provocations in the plot." The cast also includes Fassbinder regulars Harry Baer and Lilo Pempeit (Fassbinder's mother) as fellow employees and, in a small bit, Hanna Schygulla as an acquaintance from school.
The theatrical release of Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? came at a time when Fassbinder was just starting to receive international recognition as one of the leaders in the New German Cinema along with Volker Schlondorff, Werner Herzog, Margarethe von Trotta, Hans-Jurgen Syberberg and Wim Wenders. His work, however, was a reaction against the commercial cinema of his time as he himself stated: "The established culture business needs outsiders like me." Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? could be interpreted as Fassbinder's attack on the complacency of his fellow man but film scholar Jim Clark in the liner notes that accompany the DVD makes this observation: "While this is perhaps Fassbinder's most hyper-real picture, it's also among his most richly ambiguous works, mysterious to the bone. The allegorical title suggests that he has symbolic intentions, but he never forces a narrow this-means-that interpretation." Fassbinder's comments on his film, in typical fashion, were much more obtuse: "In Katzelmacher we wanted to offer the possibility of a kind of alternative attitude through the style of the film, and in Amok we are also using color to this end: the audience should understand the contents of the film and see that this has something to do with them, while, at the same time, finding a distance to it through the form in which the action is presented, so that they can reflect upon what they see." In a later comment, Fassbinder stated that Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? was "the most disgusting film I ever made."
The Fantoma DVD of Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? showcases a new digital transfer of the film in its original 1.33:1 aspect ration. The only extra is an interview with cinematographer Dietrich Lohmann, who collaborated with Fassbinder on many of his early films and offers a revealing look at the director's working methods.
Though the title asks an important
question, the film itself offers no such resolutions, with Fassbinder simply supplying
us with a series of potential ideas and scenarios that might lead an audience
to draw their own conclusions as to why the film ends the way that it does.
Although this was quite obviously an early work for Fassbinder, produced at a
relatively young age and on a limited budget, the themes and ideas behind it
are in keeping with the far greater and more assured films that he would
eventually produce during the following years of his life. These ideas of
dissatisfaction, fulfilment, alienation and dislocation would all be explored
in varied films, such as The Merchant of Four Seasons (1972), Fox and his
Friends (1975), Mother Kusters' Trip to Heaven (1975) and In a Year of 13 Moons
(1978) respectively, with the director expressing these feelings often through
jarring stylisation and alienation techniques to help convey the emotional
intensity of the characters in a way that made it easier to comprehend from the
perspective of the audience.
As some commentators have previously noted, the film-making technique employed throughout Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? (1970) draws heavily on cinéma-vérité conventions of heightened realism and bare formality, as the director - here co-credited alongside Michael Fengler - uses minimal production design, naturalistic lighting, long-takes and jarring jump cuts to establish a sense of drab, everyday normality and ironic, faux-documentary-like realism. This presentation of the film, when combined with the episodic narrative - in which nothing 'seems' to happen - make the eventual resolution all the more shocking and provocative. What Fassbinder is suggesting through the scenario presented here is never fully clarified, with the film beginning and ending with the title covering the screen and all potential notions that might have resulted in the breakdown of communication and the urge for destruction often being dismissed by the director(s) almost as soon as it has been established. Nonetheless, we can draw our own conclusion with the evidence that is implied here; whilst the benefit of repeated viewings and close attention paid to the character of "R." as he progresses through the film hints at a human being finally crushed by the humdrum grind of day-to-day subsistence.
There are a number of factors that seem to lead to the final act of the film; with the character belittled by his attractive wife, who stays at home while her husband works and continually chips away at his self-esteem by mentioning his failure to receive a promotion, his lack of social skills and his subsequent weight gain. He also has a son that is under-performing at school, as well as becoming alienated from his classmates as a result of an unfortunate speech impediment. "R." dutifully spends his time after work with the boy, reading to him and trying to coach him through certain words while his wife entertains their snooty and slyly condescending neighbours. This seems to suggest a tenderness and compassion to the character; qualities that are also obvious in the scene in which "R" and his wife recline on the couch in bathrobes drinking wine, listening to music and reminiscing fondly on how they first met. Nothing is black and white in Fassbinder's films, with the shades of grey presented in the character making the eventual shift in tone even more enigmatic and perplexing; with the cold and rigid examination of Fassbinder and Fengler also making any clearly defined interpretation more difficult as a result of the persistent lack of moralising or melodrama.
Some viewers have noted the similarities here to the later work of Lars von Trier, in particular a film like The Idiots (1998) with its roots in the Dogme 95 manifesto, as well as films like Breaking the Waves (1996) and Dancer in the Dark (2000). Like von Trier, Fassbinder is cold and clinical in his approach to the film, casting a cynical eye on the mechanisms of contemporary society and hinting at the very nature of bourgeois, 20th century living as a possible reason for this seemingly unprovoked cycle of violence. In one of the films key scenes, "R." visits his family physician for an annual check-up. Here, he complains of headaches, and the doctor opines that he's most probably over-worked and over-stressed. Instead of prescribing any kind of help, the doctor tells him to give up smoking, which will bring his blood pressure down and "help with the headaches". The flippant, unsympathetic tone of the doctor and his assessment of "R." seems a deliberate move on Fassbinder's part, with the clear hint that the characters problems stem from his heavy work load and need to provide for his family. Instead of addressing this issue, the doctor instead tells him to give up smoking; one of the few small pleasures that he seems to gleam from social interaction.
There are other hints layered throughout the film, which opens with "R's" work colleagues telling bad taste jokes that come to delicately set up a number the actions that the character will subsequently take. Fassbinder would later return to the themes of Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? in his subsequent masterpiece, Mother Kusters' Trip to Heaven, which could almost be seen as something of a thematic sequel to the film in question. For me, the later film is infinitely better; one of the director's most pointed, affecting and intelligent works, and one of the very best examples of New German Cinema produced during that particular period. However, the way that the themes of that film are paralleled here gives yet another shade of interpretation to Herr. R's enigmatic approach to cinematic examination. Though it is (perhaps) a little rough around the edges, Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? is an interesting film from Fassbinder; one that benefits from the cold cynicism of its director, and a truly mesmerising performance from the subtly affecting Kurt Raab.
Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? Jim’s Reviews, which include the DVD essay
Cinepassion.org Fernando F. Croce
DVD Times Noel Megahey, reviews the 4-disc Region 2 DVD release, Rainer Werner Fassbinder Volume 1
RIO DAS MORTES – made for TV C 75
Pretty straightforward for a Fassbinder movie,
The film involves two friends (Michael König and Günther Kaufmann) who decide they want to sail a Peruvian river in search of a fabled treasure. The journey will take a lot of money, so they proceed to do everything in their power to raise it. They borrow. They work overtime. They try to find investors for a hypothetical cotton plantation. They even sell the car -- a nondescript sequence that consumes 10 of the film's 84 minutes. Eventually, a girlfriend (Fassbinder regular Hanna Schygulla) gets wind of the plan and tries to stop it.
Despite its short running time, the film is padded with protracted scenes like the aforementioned car sale, dancing in a bar, talking on the phone, and reading aloud about, of all things, the life of Lana Turner. They jabber endlessly about her past -- even Schygulla is unable to hide her obvious boredom when one speech drags on for five minutes or more. There are few moments of real drama in
Overall, it's safe to skip this minor entry in the Fassbinder litany.
The mundane oppression of German life, which drove the stumplike protagonists of Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? and The Merchant of Four Seasons into suicide, is fended off by the two proletarian heroes (Michael König and Günther Kaufmann) here through absurd fantasy -- they dream of escaping into the Peruvian jungles to seek out some unlikely buried treasure, and spend most of the running time half-assedly trying to drum up funds, muddling from doomed scheme to doomed scheme. The occasional Antitheatre set piece notwithstanding (five gals smoking and walking in a circle in front of a huge blackboard, where a looming dick is chalked in, tagged "USSA"), this mostly forgotten entry of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's early futzing-around period feels unaccountably close to an American road-trip comedy, though, as befits the director's stark inquiry into the stunted alienation of a generation, the characters remain for the most part locked in political stasis. In between scrambling for money, there's pub jitterbugging to "Jailhouse Rock," reading aloud from an entry on Lana Turner, and some authentic bohemian décor circa 1970, wicker chairs, Buster Keaton posters and all. It is illustrative of the characters' apathy that their expected amorous triangle with König's bored bride (Hanna Schygulla) never solidifies, though she does display a far more lucid grasp on life than the two, who, to quote from Kaufmann's monologue about his days in the Navy, "take the line of least resistance." And yet, in the end it is Schygulla who's left behind, lost in her own lipsticky melodrama while the fellas take off together for literally greener pastures -- even this early, Fassbinder understood just how much more elusive escape is for a woman. With Katrin Schaake, Harry Baer, and Ulli Lommel.
After the heavy-handed Brechtian
devices of a number of his early films, Fassbinder really begins to get going
in this made-for-TV piece about a couple of working class men who share a
boyhood dream to search for treasure in Rio das Mortes in Peru. The dream they
share is a typical storytelling "call to adventure" and the film
delineates their deadbeat and usually hopeless attempts to raise the money for
the venture - their economic situation is too hopeless for them to save,
selling their possessions and cashing in their inheritances doesn't add up to
much and attempts to finance the trip as a business venture and a research
expedition fail due to their hopeless inabilities. But luck arrives in the form
of a widow with more money than sense, who stumps up the finance and so off
they go. What we've seen of them doesn't inspire much hope for their
All the while, their male story is ironically counterpointed with the hopes, dreams and aspirations of the live-in girlfriend of one of the men, played by the extraordinary Hanna Schygulla. She goes to college and takes part in a feminist theatre-piece (the conclusion of which is "women's own behaviour is the best evidence of their oppression") but learns little, as she dreams of placating her nagging mother by marrying and having lots of kids. All of that is made nonsense of by the dream-journey of the men, which she almost kiboshes by nearly shooting them at the end, a quirk of fate saving them.
Fassbinder, to my mind for the first time successfully, moulds his early obsession with the homo-social exclusion of the female in male friendships into a contemporary melodrama of some verve and wit. His story, a classic "quest myth", is ironically set in a society seething with casual misogyny, violence, class contempt, economic want and ignorance. Gritty realism is used to undermine the high-falutin dreams of the men, but the film suggests that lucky twists of fate might save a dream - all Fassbinder leaves men with is faith in turns of a friendly card; all he leaves women with is incompatible hopes of settling down with their menfolk, who shaped the patriarchal world in which they're subservient to ideals to which men's inmost dreams are opposed.
Rio das Mortes Jim’s Reviews
Rio das Mortes Tom von Logue Newth from FilmFracture, September 28, 2009
VideoVista review J.C. Hartley
Fulvue Drive-in dvd review Nate Goss
Turner Classic Movies dvd review a compilation of capsule reviews
THE COFFEEHOUSE (Das Kaffeehaus)
Das Kaffeehaus Fassbinder Foundation
People meet and chat at Ridolfo’s
Coffeehouse. The conversations are mostly about money. But they are of course
also about feelings, ideals, friendship, love, fidelity, and respectability.
But all this has its price. The TV adaptation of the play – still very popular
today – is based on the Venetian comedy writer Carlo Goldoni (1707–1793) and
the stage productions of Fassbinder and Peer Raben in
WHITY C 70
“ Yet in actual fact, the entire film is pitted against the black man, because he always hesitates and fails to defend himself against injustice. In the end he does shoot the people who oppressed him, but then he goes off into the desert and dies, having come to realize certain things without being able to act. He goes into the desert because he doesn’t dare face the inevitable consequences. I find it OK that he kills his oppressors, but it is not OK that he then goes into the desert. For by doing that he accepts the superiority of the others. Had he truly believed in his action, he would have allied himself with other suppressed individuals, and they would have acted together. The single-handed act at the end of the movie is not a solution. Thus in the last instance the film turns even against blacks.”
Whity is a strange but beautiful movie. It is a German
language western set in 1878. The only time any English is used is during the
songs sung by the saloon whore who performs like she's in a cabaret in
The bizarre story (believe me this is unlike any western you have ever seen) centers on the title character - real name Samuel King - the bastard son and slave to the wealthy Nicholson family. The father is a sadistic son of a bitch whose favorite form of punishment for his grown-up sons is a buggy whip. In one scene Whity willingly steps in for one of his brothers and takes the beating for him.
The other members of the family keep begging Whity to kill their father (or husband whichever the case may be). Otherwise they pass the time by regularly humiliating Whity. All except for the youngest brother. He's a bit special. He and Whity have a much more physically intimate relationship. Whity's mother is also a family slave. She's the cook.
Every so often Whity steals some time for himself and pays a visit to his gal at the local saloon. She's the singing hooker with the heart of gold and she wants Whity to go East with her.
I won't give away the ending to this one but believe me it's suitably strange. But not in a makes-no-logical-sense-David-Lynch sort of way. It has a cohesive plot. One thing you can say about this movie - love it or hate it - is that it succeeds at being what it was trying to be.
Normally I'm not a big fan of the art for art's sake school of moviemaking. But Fassbinder's Whity is one example that I love. It works because the story is so far out-there, especially for a western, that it allows you to focus on the cinematic pictures while still making enough sense to hold your attention. Also it helps that Whity is such a unique hero and that Günther Kaufmann gives a great performance.
As art every shot is sublimely thought-out and executed. The camera work is fluid and dreamy with many long takes. Fassbinder's eye for color rivals Vincente Minnelli's. He shoots his star like he's Cary Grant. Clearly this was a director in love with his leading man. And no wonder. Günther was hot, not to mention a truly magnetic presence in front of the camera.
Truly weird, but beautiful.
was the sickest film of Rainer Wener Fassbinder's career. This fascinating
Weltschmerz spaghetti western from 1970 concerns itself with the liberation of
a black slave (Günther Kaufmann) from the home of his master and white father,
Benjamin Nicholson (Ron Randell). Though the genre-blasting Whity sees
Fassbinder toying with classic western conventions and trying to address and
subvert distinctly American forms of racism, the moral catastrophes he exposes
are nonetheless played for a world-weary pathos and universality. Whity may
passively accept his place in society, but does the we-shall-overcome anthem
his kitchen-stranded mother, Marpessa (Elaine Baker), sing get her much further
in life? In the char-darkened face of Whity's mother and zombified mugs of the
masochistic Nicholson clan, Fassbinder ghoulishly and fascinatingly evokes the
respective decay and retardation of the human spirit. For Fassbinder, the
complex pathology of the film's racists and passive aggressors (as always, the
director takes to task those who actively participate in their own
victimization) is deliriously likened to various sexual perversions. The
Nicholsons are sadomasochists who derive pleasure from Whity's pain, just as
the Hanna Schygulla's seemingly liberated showgirl enslaves Kaufmann's Mandingo
in her own deceptive way (in one scene, she kisses him knowing that a gang of
bar rats will no doubt beat him up). Whity is a triumphant work of
political resistance, a force mirrored in the film's aesthetic: Fassbinder's
ever-gliding camera startlingly parallels the lives of characters who don't
quite understand their function within the filmic space, and therefore their
place in society. Because Whity is so technically triumphant
(Fassbinder's sensuous camera repeatedly calls attention to the many prisons
the characters occupy; the actors often had to exit the film's frame in order
to put on their white-faces and re-enter a scene, sometimes in one continuous
shot), it's easy to see why this rigorousness provoked many an emotional
windfall between the director and his crew. Whity was shot in the
Spanish town of
Whatever else it may be -- Anti-Theatre roadshow, cheekily
ghoulish roundelay, the Western spoof Mel Brooks was afraid to make -- this
stylized genre-bender should be remembered first and foremost as the film in
which Rainer Werner Fassbinder discovered the beauty and power of the image.
Working for the first time with wizardly cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, he
delineates a mise en scène almost parodical in its lushness, the gliding
camera movements and engulfing décor seemingly a far cry from the purposeful
bareness of Katzelmacher or Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? Rather
than decreasing the earlier intensity, however, the movie's drunk-on-surfaces
stylistics push the stark aesthetics to their limits by encasing their
terseness within a pungent cinematic skin. Society/family is again on trial:
set in a 19th-century
Rarely screened, forgotten by even the most devoted admirers of Fassbinder, _Whity_ is nonetheless a crucial film in Fassbinder's own development as a film-artist. For one, the style of the film marks Fassbinder's turn away from his earlier, Neo-realistic efforts (notably _Katzelmacher_ and _Why Does Herr R. Run Amok?_) and turn towards the flamboyant, melodramatic form favored by him until his untimely death in 1982. Melodrama turns out to be the best possible style for the film's story, which chronicles the fall of the seigniorial Nicholson family in the Mexican 19th century. Indeed, this film should be seen for no other reason than the inescapable weirdness one feels in watching German actors play Mexicans in the Old West. It's like seeing Peter Lorre playing John Wayne: ridiculous, if only it weren't so creepy. "Decadent" and "dysfunctional" are words redefined by the Nicholson family: the patriarch, Ben Nicholson, is remote and cruel, the wife a nymphomaniac, the older son a flaming homosexual, and his brother a severely retarded adolescent. Then there's Whity, the ironically named mulatto slave of the Nicholson family, an inadvertent focus point of each family member's perverse obsessions. It is this mutual obsession with Whity (an obsession shared by the viewer by film's end) which allows Fassbinder to explore the themes which were to comprise his greatest contribution to film's development as a medium, including: dominance and submission, the role of the Other, sexuality, the doppelganger, the economy of familial relationships, and the obstacles fate puts in the way of consumating love. These issues gain complexity when one considers that the slave Whity is played by Fassbinder's then-lover, Gunther Kaufmann. Given this, what is the viewer to make of such stylistic scenes as when Whity is disciplined by his master, while the other family members garrulously look on--knowing that Fassbinder himself is also watching from his director/dictator's chair? (The complex inter-relationships of Fassbinder and the actors during the filming of _Whity_ were later chronicled by Fassbinder in his film _Beware of a Holy Whore_, which is based on the real-life melodrama that occurred _off_ the set of _Whity_.) If nothing else, _Whity_ deserves to be included in with the other Fassbinder films, such as _Despair_, which are so justly celebrated for their psychological depth and complexity. Beyond this, two aspects of Fassbinder's technique in making _Whity_ deserve special mention. The first is that in _Whity_, one of the first of his films to employ a half-way reputable color process, Fassbinder shows himself to be a great colorist in the tradition of Delacroix, bathing the eyes with the lushest oranges, browns, and reds to be seen this side of a sunset. The palette is one that seems to have existed in film only in the late 60s and early 70s, finding similarly gorgeous expression in Truffaut's _Fahrenheit 451_, Boorman's _Point Blank_, Godard's _La Chinoise_, and Nicolas Roeg's early efforts (_A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to The Forum_ , _Performance_, _Walkabout_, _Don't Look Now_, _The Man Who Fell to Earth_). The second aspect of noteworthy technique is a camera movement that truly has no precedent in film history--a fact which makes the obscurity of _Whity_ among film scholars all the more remarkable. The best example of the technique occurs in a scene in which Ben Nicholson reads his last will and testament to the silent family members surrounding him. During an unbroken ten-minute take, the actors remain virtually motionless, as if posed in some Rembrantian tableaux (and in this way recalling Dreyer's _Day of Wrath_). Against this stasis, the camera pans slowly from one family member to another, following their own sight-lines, as if the camera were recording the trace of their attention. For ten minutes the camera repeats this zig-zag path with methodical precision, while psychedelic, trance-inducing music drones in the background. The greatest merit of the technique (seen also in an equally static scene between Whity and the retarded son in the horse barn) is that it allows the viewer time enough to meditate on the relationships among the characters involved in the tableaux--in this case most profoundly on the relationships of power among family members. It's as if Fassbinder, using film technique, took a snapshot of the family, and then spent ten minutes tracing out with his finger exactly who is dominated by whom, who resents the domination, who is perceiving whom and how, and so on. The technique, which to my knowledge Fassbinder never used again to such great effect, can only be seen as the great innovation that it is, and as such, a powerful tool for the revelation of psychological truth. However, let none of these deeper concerns eclipse the enjoyment to be had watching this bizarre, Teutonic _Dallas_ unfold. Like the best moments in a Warhol film, the high camp of _Whity_ is very, very funny to watch--certainly because it is absurd, which is not to say it is without profound meaning.
Whity from Jim’s Reviews
Fulvue Drive-in dvd review Nicholas Sheffo
THE NIKLASHAUSEN JOURNEY (Die Niklashauser Fart) – made for TV B- 80
“As Godard’s WEEKEND captured the anarchic spirit of France in the sixties, this rarely seen Fassbinder film reflected sexual and political upheaval in Germany...Fassbinder gleefully jumbles the worlds of medieval Europe, the (then) Third World, postwar Germany and the Roccoco period.”
This 1970 allegory about allegory veers from intellectual exercise into emotional exhortation and blurs the line between theater and film. Nesting complex visual strategies within simpler ones, writer-directors Rainer Werner Fassbinder (who plays a monk in a motorcycle jacket) and Michael Fengler present a series of scenes that demonstrate the martyrdom of a shepherd, who's also a performance artist and revolutionary, after his followers persuade him to abandon his sheep and take up residence in the home of a bourgeois chick who's got a big crush on him. The story alternates between this troupe--allegorical characters within the fiction of the movie as well as the street-theater pieces they perform--and a clan of ecclesiastical and royal types who seem to spend most of their time choreographing decadent scenarios in elaborate interiors. Amazingly simple editing and sound design--most scenes are complete in one shot and use only one or two sound effects or just music in addition to the dialogue--create a minimally realist and hypertheatrical vision of class conflict and potential doom.
Who needs the revolution?" asks Rainer Werner Fassbinder, his black-jacketed back to the camera, in a stark Antiteater tableaux against a red brick wall. The people do, of course, and in this early call-for-arms curio, co-directed for German TV with Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? pal Michael Fengler, Fassbinder mines a feudal past for present-tense guerilla fare -- for him, as for Godard and Glauber Rocha around the same period, the possibility of revolution still throbbed. Ostensibly set in the 15th-century, the story follows a hippiefied shepherd (Michael König) who claims visions of the Madonna, rallies up the masses (or at least a bunch of Fassbinder axioms, including Hanna Schygulla, Günther Kaufmann, Margit Cartensen) against an epicenely oppressive ruler, and gets crucified and burned for his trouble. Bourgeois lucidity is the first casualty of the movie's recklessly anachronistic agit-prop, so that the rehearsal of a Virgin Mary soliloquy gets interrupted by news of the killing of Black Panthers founder Fred Hampton, the shaggy Messiah caps an al fresco sermon with a fervid "Long live Lenin, smash fascism!" and the conceptual audacity of the director's camera movements far outweighs the resources of cinematographer Dietrich Lohmann. In his most explicitly politicized (though far from best) film, Fassbinder suggests a temporal continuum of thwarted upheaval that can only be addressed (and, thus, confronted) by way of frontal artistic attack -- or, as one of the languid sleepwalkers in the opening sequence puts it, "agitation through instruction and militant example." With Kurt Raab.
One of Fassbinder's first films, 'The Niklashausen Journey' might be the most explicitly political the filmmaker would ever get. Once again - as with all his earlier work that I've seen - Godard's influence is palpable, particularly the messy mythologizing he applied to revolutionaries in 'Weekend' (although from what I've read about Straub-Huillet and other first generation of filmmakers from the New German Cinema, the influences extend much farther beyond that). 'Niklashausen' is a scathing critique of both political radicals and the society that produces them. Unlike Godard, Fassbinder makes this a very specific society, a very German society. The movie draws very clear parallels between religion and revolution, questions both the means and ends of revolutionary violence, suggests similarities between this uprising and the one led by Hitler several decades earlier - and it completely dismisses the ruling class as worthless, absurd fools quick to devastation when their enemies are involved. It works on the viewer in unexpected ways, building on our empathy with the revolutionary cause, while nearly condemning the whole movement, to make us truly care about enacting change - it is not as depressingly claustrophobic as the summary would have you believe. Without the usual melodrama to carry the film along, it does feel like an emotionally distant version of Fassbinder's later films like 'In A Year of 13 Moons' or 'Querelle.' It is difficult to deny that the film is formally and structurally brilliant, however, and of immediate interest to anyone who wants to see yet another side of a genius manifesting itself for the first time, in one of his more fascinating experiments.
The Niklashausen Journey is very
much a product of its time, being halfways between a Goddardian (by way of
Brecht) "distanced" telling of a historical tale, full of
anachronisms and on-screen commentary, and a hip parable, not unlike an
ultra-leftist Godspell with polemic replacing the songs.
The film is based on the life of one Hans Boehm, a shepherd from Niklashausen who, in the early 15th century, had visions of the Virgin Mary, gathered a large popular following amongst the peasantry, increasingly stirred up ill-feeling towards the clergy and nobility and was burned as a as a heretic and enchanter in 1476. In Fassbinder and Fengler's television film (shot on 16mm), a motley group of contemporary types re-enact the shepherd's story as well as talk endlessly about the methods, implications, pitfalls and necessities of political revolution. Along the way, the film suggests not just the mystic revolutionaries of the reformation period but also the German and Russian communists of the early 20th century and the hippies & black panthers contemporaneous to the film's release. The story would seem to suggest that the revolution - although justified by the corruption and guile of the ruling classes - is always doomed; the shepherd himself is a gorgeous blonde youth with little personality whose followers seem to be in the grip of some spell or hysteria, suggesting that he's nothing more than a Pied Piper, Hitler or Charles Manson.
Fassbinder himself plays one of the shepherd's cohorts, walking & talking alongside the group wearing his trademark blue jeans and black leather jacket. At one point one of the female followers chastises him for thinking that happiness can ever be achieved on earth - life on this plane of existence is merely ours to illustrate that there can be no happiness outside of heaven; Fassbinder says nothing either way about this...
The film is rather uncompromisingly lacking in narrative pull, although its amalgam of tableaux, slow zooms and intricately choreographed tracked dialogues does make it filmicly exciting. Basically, it's another of Fassbinder's long, slow steps out of avant-guarde cornerism towards becoming a master of 1970s cinema. Worth catching once, appreciable but difficult to really warm to. Not that it is meant to be taken warmly...
The Niklashausen Journey Jim’s Reviews
VideoVista review Jim Steel
Das Nicklashauser Fart (The Nicklashauser Journey) Tom von Logue Newth from FilmFracture, September 28, 2009
Turner Classic Movies dvd review a compilation of capsule reviews
THE AMERICAN SOLDIER (Der amerikanische Soldat) B 89
Interesting that this film introduced the storyline for Fassbinder’s later film, ALI: FEAR EATS THE SOUL, in a scene where barmaid Margarethe von Trotta, in a long sequence where she sits on a bed, recounts the story of Emmi and her husband Ali, a 60-something German cleaning lady and a 20-years her junior Moroccan guest worker. According to Fassbinder, “They marry and one day she is murdered. Nobody knows who the killer is – whether it was her husband or one of his Turkish pals. But I didn’t want to tell the story the way it actually happened. I wanted to give the young Turk and the old woman a chance to live together.”
“ THE AMERICAN SOLDIER ...is a synthesis of LOVE IS COLDER THAN DEATH and GODS OF THE PLAGUE, and the narrative method is very concrete and professional. The earlier two films were actually accurate reconstructions of the people and atmosphere in Munich, while THE AMERICAN SOLDIER was more a real film and had a real story, and besides, it was larded with quotes from Hollywood films as well as French gangster films, and above all from the films of Raoul Walsh and John Huston.”
Time Out Tony Rayns
1970's The American Soldier shows Fassbinder getting
drunk on Godard's experiments in noir. The main character, a gunman hired by
the local police to take out criminals they can't dispose of legally, spells
out another character's name thusly: "W as in war, A as in
The strongest of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's early noir riffs, trailing the white-suited, white-fedoraed eponymous thug (Karl Scheydt), just back from Vietnam, as he makes the underworld rounds of a chiaroscuro Munich. Although crammed with buffish winks -- hoods playing poker with porno cards under harsh Langian lighting, characters tagged Murnau and Fuller (and, more esoterically, Rosa Von Praunheim), some cutrate Dietrich lip-synching at a dive dubbed "The Lola Montes" -- Fassbinder goes beyond Nouvelle Vague pastiche. Comparisons with Alphaville are de righteur (Scheydt's ice-water hit man is cut out of the same attitudinizing mold as Lemmy Caution, Godard's own trenchcoated signifier of Yank imperialism), though Fassbinder's concerns are postwar German to the core: as in Love is Colder Than Death or Gods of the Plague, film noir tropes are dusted off to connect the characters' sense of spiritual malaise to a nation's cultural displacement. (It's only fitting that, quoting from a vintage Hollywood genre, the filmmaker points back to such legitimate, if transplanted, Germanic presences as Lang, Siodmak and Wilder.) A huge advance on the stylistic wobbliness of Gods of the Plague, the movie keeps druggy, almost Jarmuschian mood and tone compact even when coming up with the most lyrical of interruptions. (My favorite -- forlorn maid Marguarette von Trotta leaning against the railing of a motel bed, plaintively outlining a couple of future Fassbinder projects while Scheydt and some undercover slag fuck on the mattress behind her.) Peter Raben did the narcotizing theme song ("So much tenderness is in my head/So much emptiness is in my bed"), poured unforgettably over the finale's boldly unending, undercranked spoof of Bonnie and Clyde's tommy gun-dance climax. Cinematography by Dietrich Lohmann. With Elga Sorbas, Hark Bohm, Ulli Lommel, Katrin Schaake, Ingrid Craven, Kurt Raab, and Irm Hermann. In black and white.
The München police cannot cope anymore with some of their
underworld elements, so they hire Ricky Murphy alias Richard von Rezzori, a
German who served for the US in Vietnam, to kill first a gypsy, then a
porno-merchant (and by the way also her lover), and last the girlfriend of one
of the police detectives. It happens to be exactly this girl who is sent to
Ricky when he stays in a hotel and orders a girl. In the scene in the hotel we
hear also the story of the house-keeper Emmy who married a much younger man from
However, after Ricky has done his duty for the detectives that engaged him, they must get rid of him because otherwise they would have to admit their incapability to solve their problems on their own in front of their boss, an ancient police-chief who seems to be in the hand of his officers. The end scene, in which Ricky and his buddy Franz lose their lives because of a simple "accident", I do not want to spoil here, because the end of "The American Soldier" is an end of such a magnitude of splendor that you will hardly find in any other movie. However, what I want to add is that the message of this movie goes way beyond that of Fassbinder's inclination towards American gangster movies from the 40ies: People who know Fassbinder's work also know that he gave his movies strong political and sociological messages on their ways. "I want my movies to go on in the heads of the audience after they have left the cinema", Fassbinder once said. In this movie, Germans engage an American-German with Vietnam-experience to do the dirty work in
Yup, this is full of allusions to
brilliant German directors, and French and American cinema, but "The
American Soldier" is much more than a clever exercise-- and cuts deeper
than film noir. For this, I think, is as much about the Vietnam War, misogyny,
and German/American superiority as it is about an underworld hit man. In fact,
the genre seems no more than a departure point.
Ricky's inner power is in no way individuated---he's a type, a type produced by powerful entities. He's not a man born, but a male made. He's one of a multiplicity of monsters let loose on the world by the naked display of power--whether it be located in DC or
But he's not a typical hit man. He's cool all right, and does cut the figure. But he seems cumbersome, as if new to his form, his movements contained as if by a low ceiling, his body by an uncomfortable suit. He's "the man" but he seems programmed--and is, simply following orders from his own "the man" who also happens to have state authority. He's detached, indiscriminate, naked in his actions, and impersonal--his mind almost narcoleptic. There seems to be some flaw in his design, as if the suit made to cover the soldier, and the soldier made to cover the killer, are not totally effective---not for him, not for those who control him. His murders have all the raw arbitrary-ness of the automated martial male, created in an era of war treachery that has no end.
Ricky's females, a spectrum of femme fatales, have a malaise about them, as if narcotized by drugs, drink, sex, or more obviously, by a submissiveness to power. Ricky orders them in the same precise way he orders his Ballantine--and with the same certainty of availability. He takes them, literally dumps them, mocks them, uses them and, if they get too close, murders them. He has to drink whiskey before every sexual encounter to negate any emotion or doubt. Gay men suffer a similar scorn from the brute, his contempt for the powerless underwritten by the world of organized violence that created and controls him. "So much tenderness in my head, so much emptiness in my bed" is heard over and over during Ricky and his brother's final sex/death scene. Which might be interpreted that in a perverse world poisoned by super masculinity and violence, sex with the dead is more possible--or preferable than sex with the living.
The American Soldier Jim’s Reviews
Fulvue Drive-in Nate Goss
VideoVista review Gary McMahon
Turner Classic Movies dvd review a compilation of capsule reviews
BEWARE OF A HOLY WHORE (Warnung vor einer heiligen Nutte) B 88
“With this film, we finally buried our first hope, namely the antitheater. I had no idea how things would go forward after that, but I knew that things couldn’t continue as they were...Much of the films up to BEWARE OF A HOLY WHORE satisfied me quite simply because the films expressed my situation at that time very concretely...If you see them together, it becomes clear that they were made by someone who put them in his sensibility, his aggressiveness, and his fear. Nonetheless, I don’t quite count these first 9 movies; for they are too elitist and too private, and they actually were made only for us and for our friends.”
By 1971, Fassbinder was up to his 10th feature, and if the Godard influence on Beware of a Holy Whore is just as strong, Fassbinder expertly reworks Contempt to serve his own needs. Though it's ostensibly about filmmaking, more than half the film goes by before you see a camera (compare to Contempt, which features a camera in the first shot); what Fassbinder's really interested in are the dynamics of a group of brittle temperaments confined to an enclosed space (in this case, a Spanish hotel) for weeks at a time. The results, as you'd imagine, aren't pretty, with couples uncoupling and re-coupling without provocation (most notably, Hanna Schygulla makes nice with Alphaville's Eddie Constantine), broken glasses, bloodied egos and more temper tantrums than you can shake a Xanax at. And yet, Fassbinder almost dares you to be bored, keeping the camera distant and letting the pauses linger. By the time it's done, you may feel like climbing the walls, but you'll be fascinated all the same.
I saw the restored print today at the film forum it was stunning and lush and beautifully photographed. If you can't understand that Fassbinder's early films came out of his experiences in the theater in Germany, and the plays he wrote very often featured a group of people standing around talking, then you'll never understand this film or Fassbinder. This film is about Fassbinder, and like all his films it crosses genres widely mixing the obvious Warhol influence with films about films like Contempt, Day For Night, 81/2. It does feature a large cast of people and like the Chelsea Girls sitting around talking about nothing for four hours, Beware Of a Holy Whore features a large group of people doing whatever they want and catches them in various states of anger, sadness, drunkenness, etc. The dialogue is often amusing, but the monotony of the experience is what's important - again the link to Warhol. Moreover the director character in the film seems to me to be exactly a representation of Fassbinder and by the final half hour you really come to feel his frustration at everyone and life itself. This was Fassbinder when he directed, screaming , shouting at everyone. His reputation was widespread. In this film Fassbinder realizes his ridiculousness and decides to do it up - and that's where the self-parody comes in. If you want to see this movie for a comedy experience, next. The film is impressive, interesting, beautifully shot - one exceptional moment was the sunset shot where Jeff gets punched in the stomach. And the editing of the film half really worked well, cutting between scenes the way they did. Quite Effective. Really.
Comparisons between Beware of a Holy
Whore and Godard's Contempt and Truffaut's Day for Night are
unavoidable, but even if the film is not quite as successful as those two films
it's infinitely funnier. At once Fassbinder's most accessible and
self-indulgent film, Beware of a Holy Whore catalogs the emotional
baggage of actors holed up inside a Spanish seaside hotel during a tedious and
under-financed movie shoot. The film is, at first glance, about making movies.
Upon closer look, though, it's really about Rainer Werner Fassbinder making
movies. The many events depicted here are more or less variations of similar
melodramas his actors suffered on the set of the remarkable Whity, which was filmed in
Beware of a Holy Whore Jim’s Reviews
RECRUITS IN INGOLSTADT – made for TV B 84
aka: Pioneers in Ingolstadt (Pioniere in Ingolstadt)
Like his hero Douglas Sirk, Rainer Werner Fassbinder explored the dark side of human sexuality in Pioneers in Ingolstadt, the story of a group of soldiers building a bridge in a small town during peacetime. The town's women, including a loose tart (Irm Hermann) and a naïve maid (Hanna Schygulla) begin to flirt with the soldiers, one to have sex, the other to fall in love. The soldiers play with the power of their uniforms and ranks, often making decisions based not on what they themselves want, but on what they don't want others to have. It's a powerful film, shot quickly and economically with incredible cinematic poetry.
Whity seriously kick-started Rainer Werner Fassbinder's career, but before the German bad boy left for Spain to shoot the film in early 1970, he directed the quickie Pioneers in Ingolstadt for German television. Though not exactly insignificant, the film is still a minor work for a director best known for thought-provoking observations of social exclusion like Fox and His Friends and tear-jerkers like Ali: Fear Eats the Soul. Pioneers in Ingolstadt was one of only a handful of productions whose source material wasn't written by Fassbinder himself, though it bears mentioning that Marieluise Fleisser (whose 1929 play the director adapts here for the screen) was a favorite of Bertolt Brecht's. The film catalogs the sexual exploits of army recruits sent to the film's titular town in order to build a bridge. The film is difficult to place on an actual timeline, though it appears as if its soldiers are members of the Nazi party. Fassbinder doesn't do much with this small and ultimately insignificant detail, though he seems to recognize a certain irony in having a black man as a member of the film's pioneer ranks. Fassbinder regulars Irm Hermann and Hanna Schygulla star as two housemaids-cum-whores whose lives are shattered when the men love them and subsequently leave them. It's in the hopes and emotional disappointments of the film's women that Fassbinder evokes not a war between nations but an equally destructive battle between the sexes. Appropriately, these little wars between the film's men and women are sometimes unfounded and end in bitter regret, but a careless Fassbinder only seems half-interested in the emotional devastations he charts. This is not the quintessential aesthetic detachment vital to other Fassbinder masterworks (and crucial to the theater of Brecht and the cinema of Douglas Sirk). Fassbinder is clearly bored…and it shows.
A troop of German soldiers arrives at tiny Ingolstadt with orders to build a wooden bridge, though, besides a couple of shots of the guys hammering the same beams over and over, their interests are more attuned to brawling, boozing, and whoring -- the last amply supplied by the bored female populace, embodied by forlorn Hanna Schygulla and her looser pal Irm Hermann. Both housemaids ditching their aprons for microskirts, the two take to the streets for uniformed horndogs, with Hermann diving into trick-turning with a vengeance (earning the hatred of the other gals) while the still-romantic Schygulla, already with the boss' son (Rudolf Waldemar Brem) hounding her ass, has to fall for the most narcissistically dislocated of the grunts (Harry Baer). In this Rainer Werner Fassbinder TV quickie, Schygulla's love for the soldier (which inevitably brings about her misery) is not so much an emotion as an incantation of an emotion -- no campy put-on, but the realization of a character who wants to believe in love, in the possibility of regeneration from a society's spiritually coagulated stasis. Somnambulistically terse, the movie reaches for Brecht (it's no surprise that the source material, Marieluise Fleisser's 1929 play, was a favorite of Herr Bertold's) but ultimately settles for disinterested sadomasochism. If little of the military setting matches the pungency of Claire Denis' Beau Travail, bits of Fassbinderia still twirl in between the Antiteater tableaux -- an interminable circling pan around a tavern of dancing gropers may be more mobility than cameraman Dietrich Lohmann can deal with, though a brief interlude between a loudmouth sergeant and a tiny Lana Turner wannabe shows how a mere dance for the director can be a battleground of emotional brutality. With Walter Sedlmayr and Günther Kaufmann.
If there's one thing that really bothers me about
Fassbinder's history is how boggled his film chronology is. For someone who
improved at such a consistent rate, it's really annoying in the case of his
first 11 "anti-theater" films, that no one seems to know what order
they came in.
According to the information on the recent DVD issue of this movie, "Pioneers" is the last of those first 11. Now, I could have sworn that "Beware of a Holy Whore" was Fassbinder's 11th film (which would make more sense, given that movie's self-reflexive 'biting the hand that feeds you' nature). Alas, maybe this one is number 11.
On a technical level, this is very much "early Fassbinder", which is best evidenced by Dietrich Lohmann's early cinematography. When working with Michael Ballhaus, Fassbinder was able to have his camera swoop around his characters. Even if they still weren't doing anything, it at least gave some external feel to the movie. Dietrich Lohmann is the polar opposite. He just points the camera, and occasionally pans it, as in one seen that pans back and forth between two characters talking for about 5 minutes. Fassbinder always loved long takes, and always liked giving a theatrical look to his movies, especially the early ones. Michael Ballhaus was able to nail this, but Lohmann's camera work always seemed a bit amateur. It worked great in "Effi Briest", and certain scenes of "Merchant of Four Seasons" and "American Soldier", but I can see why Michael Ballhaus slowly became Fassbinder's preferred camera man going into the mid-'70s.
That said, this movie is also indicative of Fassbinder's early career in that is stars seedy low lives. Before, he usually used gangsters, here he uses whores and bored, drunken soldiers (or 'pioneers'). They sit and drink and do typical Fassbinder stuff (occasionally have sex, occasionally beat someone up). There's some plot here and there. It definitely gives you what you're looking for when renting a Fassbinder movie, but certain scenes had a Fassbinder-by-numbers quality. In one of the final scenes, Hanna Schylla starts chasing after the morally bankrupt guy she's fallen in love with. I said under my breath "she's going to trip and fall and start to cry". I was right. Maybe I've seen too many Fassbinder movies, or maybe Fassbinder was treading a bit too much water with this one.
Like I said, this movie does the trick if you're looking for a Fassbinder fix, and in that, I have to commend it. It's just a movie best reserved for the devoted fans.
Pioneers in Ingolstadt Jim’s Reviews
THE MERCHANT OF FOUR SEASONS (Händler der vier Jahreszeiten) B+ 92
A highly rated melodrama, Douglas Sirk style, supposedly based on Fassbinder’s uncle who was treated like an outcast for taking up the working class occupation of selling vegetables from a pushcart, only to be welcomed back into the fold when he made a bundle doing it. The film is a character study of a fruit peddler (Hans Hirschmüller) who eventually drinks himself to death in front of his friends, a premonition of Fassbinder’s own fate, a stark look at unexceptional, everyday, ordinary life, constantly frustrated by social convention, showing a surprising degree of sympathy for the characters, despite their brutality and betrayal. This is a well-balanced narrative, featuring some terrific ensemble acting including Irm Hermann and Hanna Schygulla, the 1st Fassbinder film to expand the emotional edges using a very precise, beautiful style, also a song entitled “Little Love” allegedly written by Fassbinder for the film according to Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation, disputed by Ingrid Caven (No morals without style) who claims Fassbinder never wrote a note, that the real composer is Peer Raben, winner of the Gold Filmband in German Film Prize Competition.
Made before Fear Eats the Soul, which it resembles in many respects, this deceptively muted melodrama chronicles the 'rubbing out' of a character found oddly irrelevant by those around him: a man who dreamed of being an engineer, but had to settle for a fruit and vegetable stall, his aspirations constantly frustrated by his social circumstances. The film builds with remarkable power towards a concluding scene in which the process of Hans' destruction is revealed to be blindly self-perpetuating. Fassbinder's regular ensemble perform with enormous precision, and there's a remarkable dinner party scene in which, in a kind of mesmeric shorthand, the mechanics of destruction are revealed, working like clockwork.
Fassbinder's earlier films, his ideas sometimes surpased his ability to execute
them. He was always a great writer, but it took him some time to get his style
of camera work and storytelling down pat.
The Merchant of Four Seasons is one of Fassbinder's first movie to make great use of color, from the bright green pears in the merchant's cart to the bright red roses at the funeral (a funeral in a Fassbinder movie? who'd have thought).
His camera work was getting there too, but it was still fairly minimalist. The occasional zooms seem a bit uncomfortable at times and unnatural, but then again, Fassbinder was still coming out of his purely avant garde phase. This might be because Michael Ballhaus isn't behind the camera, but instead the slightly inferior Dietrich Lohmann.
Still, this is Fassbinder, and you get your fix here. Broken dreams shown so vividly and unflinchingly as to alienate audience and drive them into a depressed stupor. Just what the doctor ordered. An early classic that shows remarkable progression when compared to his first films released only 2 years prior.
The Merchant of Four Seasons is a pivotal work in Rainer Werner Fassbinder's career because it was the first film he made after meeting and befriending his muse Douglas Sirk in 1971. The film is more or less a variant of Fox and His Friends, except Hans Hirschmüller stars as the film's born-loser whose human spirit is crushed by a cruel society, and the great Hanna Schygulla appears as the proverbial voice of wisdom common to so many Fassbinder films. Via an elliptical narrative structure consisting of various flashback sequences, Fassbinder evokes Hans' many disappointments, beginning with Hans returning from the war after several years away and being berated by his mother ("The good die young, and people like you come back," she says after hearing about the death of the young friend Hans had taken into the army with him). Though he innocently believes that a gift of flowers will win him a marriage proposal, Hans is rejected by the great love of his life (Ingrid Caven) for being a fruit seller. Frustration quickly sets in and Hans turns to liquor and violence, beating his wife, Irmgard (Irm Hermann), and driving her away from the home of his judgmental family. Sirk's influence is most evident in Fassbinder's subversions of Irmgard's domestic bliss. When she flees from Hans and is propositioned by a man in a car, Fassbinder frames her in front of a department store window containing mannequins dressed in bridal attire. That a nearby display is that of a sleek living room unit reinforces just how little they have. Hans and Irmgard's daughter, Renate (Andrea Schober), repeatedly bears witness to her parents' embarrassments: she catches her mom having sex with a future employee of her father's and later watches as another employee takes on the role of surrogate father when Hans is too detached from the world to help her with her homework. "I told you, he'll live if he wants to," says Schygulla's Anna to the little girl, pointing to Hans' inability to fend off the collective weight of the emotional disasters that have beset him his entire life. If not quite as solid as Fox and His Friends, The Merchant of Four Seasons is every bit as critical of its lecherous, hypocritical German society as it is with the victims who seemingly perpetuate their own damnation.
The Merchant of Four Seasons is a
film about a lack of love. The film starts off with the main character; Hans
Epp, returning from a spell in the foreign legion. He returns to his mother,
not to be told how much she loves him, or how much she's missed him; but to be
told that he is worthless and, even worse, that she would have preferred the
man he went with to have come back instead. It is the character's relation to
women that makes this film so hateful; the fact that his wife is taller than
him is symbolic of his relation to the other gender; he is consistently
humiliated by them, and it is through his relations with them that his life
isn't as great as it could have been. This is also shown clearly by the way he
treats his wife after a drink. He lost his job as a policeman through lust for
a woman, and even his wife; a woman that is supposed to love him, never really
shows any affection for him. Even at the end, his wife is more bothered about
what her and her daughter will do than the state of her husband.
The Merchant of Four Seasons is a thoroughly unpleasant film. There isn't a scene in the movie where someone is happy, and not only that; but the movie seems deliriously blissful to wallow in the misery of it's central characters. The movie is certainly not recommended to anyone who is currently having a hard time, that's for sure. Despite all the misery, the film never steps out the bounds of reality; every event in this movie can - and most probably has - happened, and that only serves in making the movie more shocking. The film is, of course, helmed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder; the cult German director that committed suicide in 1982. This is only my second taste of the man's work, but through just two films, it is easy to get an idea of the type of art that he creates. Both films are downtrodden and gritty - yet realistic pieces of art. His characterization in this movie is subtle; we only ever get to know the characters through their plight's and not through their character. This is a very clever way of showing the audience that it is their surroundings that define the people in the film, not the people themselves - and as nearly everyone that sees the film knows what living in an urban society is like, it wont difficult for the majority of people to relate to.
The Merchant of Four Seasons is not a film that is easily forgettable; the movie is high on substance and low on style, and that makes for a very memorable picture, and one that everyone who considers themselves to be a fan of cinema should experience. It is with that in my mind that I give this film my highest recommendations; it's not sweet and it's not pleasant, but you will not see a more realistic portrayal of depression, and this is most certainly a movie that will stay with you.
The Merchant of Four Seasons established a number of
trademarks, both visual and thematic, that would become further refined and
much more expressive in the Fassbinder films to follow. Here, for example, we
see the action unfold through the eyes of a tortured anti-hero and his
literally abused wife, as they strive to put aside petty differences, the
ghosts of the past and the animosity of friends, family and neighbours, in an
attempt to overcome the monotonous misery of everyday life. However, as with
most Fassbinder films, the daily grind often ends up being too severe - and
generally things never go to plan - leaving most of the characters feeling
damaged, depressed, worthless or worse. With that in mind, it would be easy to
dismiss Fassbinder's work as nothing more than misanthropic self-pity, yet to
do so would require us to disregard the three-dimensional characters, the
meaningful dialog and the heart that seems to beat at the centre of all of his
Unlike many other director's who have mined the social-realist path, Fassbinder never looks down on his characters to gloat or heap scorn, and instead, seems to have a genuine warmth and love for then. That said, he respects the fact that such real-life archetypes can often fall foul of the system, ending up as nothing more than damaged shells forced to enter into a downward spiral that takes time, faith and self-belief to truly escape from. The central notion of The Merchant of Four Seasons then, involves a character that has fallen into one such spiral that has crushed his very will to escape. So, like the characters in later works like Fox and his Friends, Mother Küsters Goes to Heaven and In A Year With 13 Moons, Hans Epp becomes a character that has, through circumstance and upbringing, been led towards an ultimate downfall that he both accepts and embraces. As you can imagine from such a bare-bones description, The Merchant of Four Seasons is bleak stuff, offering an honest and at times rather ugly depiction of failure, despair, contempt and alienation.
Fassbinder attempts a purposely fractured narrative with The Merchant of Four Seasons, beginning the film with a scene in which Hans returns from a stint in the Foreign Legion. He expects a heroes welcome, but instead, is chastised by his mother for waking her up at such an ungodly hour, before lamenting the fact that the young man dragged along by Hans to fight by his side has been killed, whilst her errant son has returned ("the good die young, and people like you come back" she says, before closing the door in his face). The scene establishes the relationship between Hans and his mother perfectly, and will go some lengths towards explaining Hans's often quite violent relationship with his own wife Irmgard. Later scenes, presented in similarly fragmented flashbacks, inform us of Hans's past as a promising scholar before he dropped out to join the Legion, his dismissal from the police force after accepting sexual favours from a prostitute, the humiliation in the eyes of his family and friends of having to become a common fruit vendor, and his inability to woo the great love of his life.
Like many of Fassbinder's key characters, Hans remains a tragic anti-hero. On the one hand we feel pity (and to some extent empathy) for this short, overweight character, so unfortunate in life that he's even ended up married to a tall slender woman who's very appearance can only exaggerate his physical shortcomings, but at the same time he comes across as quite vile and detestable. The scene in which the drunken Hans viciously beats his wife - whilst his young daughter tries desperately to protect her mother - is captured in a static medium shot that goes on for so long that the actions run from the heartbreaking, to the comedic, to the tragic and beyond!! Even when Hans seems to be getting his life back together, finally winning the respect of his family and even establishing a successful working relationship with his old Legion pal Harry, there's still something missing. Fassbinder's point seems to be that the failures of our early life can only dictate the direction of our adult life, whilst one scene in particular, in which Hans's daughter Renate asks her aunt Anna if her father is going to die, seems to sum up the soul of the film perfectly, with Anna replying "he will live as long as he wants to live".
Ultimately, The Merchant of Four Seasons is a film about a character resigned to a life from which there is no escape... a life in which his very presence is enough to poison the lives of those around him!! Hans Hirschmüller's performance as the tragic Hans is exceptional stuff, managing to elicit a degree of sympathy for this dark and complicated character. As great as Hirschmüller is, he is far eclipsed by Fassbinder regular Irm Hermann, who offers a touching and sympathetic performance as Hans's loveless and equally complex wife. Further support is offered by Hanna Schygulla, Klaus Löwitsch, Ingrid Caven and Kurt Raab... though the film belongs to Fassbinder, who here begins to develop the style that would later lead to masterworks like The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, Fear Eats the Soul, Fox and His Friends, The Marriage of Maria Braun and In A Year With 13 Moons. Though perhaps too morose and continually bleak for some viewers, The Merchant of Four Seasons remains an intelligent, honest and subtly affecting look at failure, alienation and despair.
The Merchant of Four Seasons Jim’s Reviews, which includes material for the Commemorative Collection Volume 1 DVD essay
The Lumière Reader Steve Garden
Reel.com DVD review [Pam Grady] Special Edition
VideoVista review James A. Stewart
Strictly Film School Acquarello
FilmExposed Magazine Chris Power
Turner Classic Movies dvd review a compilation of capsule reviews
THE BITTER TEARS OF PETRA VON KANT (Die bitteren Tränen der Petra von Kant) A 97
“Marlene leaves because she had accepted her role as the
oppressed and exploited one and because in reality she is frightened by the
freedom offered to her. Freedom means,
specifically, having to think about her life, and she isn’t used to that. She had always acted like a commando and
never made her own decisions. So freedom
scared her, and when she finally abandons
The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant is the first opera
in history shorter than the drama on which it was based, even though word for
word it uses the same text. The leading
Irish composer, Gerald Barry, has drawn his inspiration from the 1972 film by
the controversial German director, Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Set in five brief acts, it tells the story of
By severely compressing the drama and using an approachable
but generally abrasive idiom (thank goodness for surtitles), Barry intensifies
the story of
What makes this sordid story vivid is not just the vitality and
speed of Barry’s music with its jangling brass, but the teasing mixture of dark
tragedy, hysterical emotions, and unexpected comedy. The audience never knows whether to laugh or
cry. This is brilliantly backed in Richard Jones’s production with evocative
sets and costumes by the designer, Ultz.
Spread right across the broad Coliseum stage, the sets on different
levels picture all the rooms in
Barry’s brilliant coup is to make Marlene a non-singing
character even though she is at the center of every scene. Deservedly, Linda
Kitchen, magnetic as Marlene, regularly got the biggest cheer of all at the
end. The role of
If Fear Eats the Soul used Emmi and Ali's improbable relationship as a key to deep-set patterns of social prejudice and fear, then the slightly earlier Bitter Tears sketches the currents of dominance and submission that lie beneath the surface of any human relationship. This time, the focus is gay rather than straight: fashion designer Petra (once widowed, once divorced) develops a fiercely possessive crush on her model Karin, and, as soon as the one-sided affair reaches its necessary end, starts wallowing in theatrical self-pity. Coldly described, the set and costume design and the hothouse atmosphere represent so much high-camp gloss; but once again this careful stylisation enables Fassbinder to balance between parody of an emotional stance and intense commitment to it. He films in long, elegant takes, completely at the service of his all-female cast, who are uniformly sensational.
The Fassbinder retrospective goes out on a high note with
the final screening of The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972).
Adapted from Fassbinder's own play, the film hardly hides its theatrical origins,
turning them instead to its advantage. Rather than camouflage the proscenium,
This is at first glance oblique but ultimately deeply penetrating study of the way relationships are constructed and the essential feature of them which according to Fassbinder is no other than power. Here power alternates in actual or oflen in purely symbolic terms between several women in a room, in what may be regarded as one of the most successful attempts to present a theatrical play onto the screen.
Petra Von Kant is a fashion designer and lives with her assistant. She soon
though employs a new model and a lesbian relationship between them unfolds
almost immediately. This relationship remains brief as
Fassbinder provides here a transparent examination of the dynamics of dominance and submission aiming to transcend the strict limits of the homosexual nature of the relationship, and to reach a more general level. In this goal he is entirely successful. The way abuse of power inhibits true communication and the way it enhances estrangement is presented through various confrontations: husband and wife, employer and employee, mother and daughter. The result, as one would expect, is detrimental to both parties. Fassbinder throws in simultaneously, all sorts of issues which are not directly linked to the main theme but they somehow cohere perfectly with it. He juxtaposes kitsch with art, and he compensates for the coldness of his characters with some incredibly moving moments of personal confrontation.
"The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant" (1972) - was the first
Fassbinder's film I saw many years ago in Moscow and it had started my
fascination and interest in the work of the enormously talented man who was a
writer/director/producer/editor/ actor for almost all his movies. "The
Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant" is a screen adaptation of the earlier
Fassbinder's play and it never leaves the apartment of Petra Von Kant an
arrogant, sarcastic, and successful fashion designer who constantly mistreats
and humiliates her always silent and obedient assistant Marianne (Irm Hermann,
with whom Fassbinder made 24 movies). As a background for
Not exactly the most comfortable film of
Rainer Werner Fassbinder's career, the Sapphic haute couture bitchfest The
Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (a major influence on Francois Ozon's 8 femmes) is also his most
oft-quoted. And it's easy to see why, what with rhythmic rants like: "He
stank like a man. The way men stink. What had once had its charms now turned my
stomach and brought tears to my eyes." Margit Carstensen stars as the
film's eponymous fashion designer, a divorced whiner who falls hopelessly and
obsessively in love with one of her models, Karin (Hanna Schygulla). Fassbinder
uses the claustrophobic geometry of the film (for two hours, his grueling camera
The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant Jim’s reviews, which includes material for the Commemorative Collection Volume 1 DVD essay
Slate [Luc Sante] A Holy Whore, which includes brief film clips, February 19, 1997
Mise en Scène as Power Struggle: THE BITTER TEARS OF PETRA VON KANT Jonathan Rosenbaum, June 4, 2009
The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972) Roderick Heath from Ferdy on Films
Long Pauses Darren Hughes
VideoVista review Jonathan McCalmont
The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant Karina Longworth from SpoutBlog, February 8, 2008
FilmExposed Magazine Chris Power
Turner Classic Movies dvd review a compilation of capsule reviews
Books on German film New German Film: The Displaced Image by Timothy Corrigan (213 pages) and West German Film in the Course of Time by Eric Rentschler (260 pages), reviewed by Jan Mouton from Jump Cut, February 1988
JAIL BAIT – made for TV
“I would defend myself against a charge of denigrating people in anything I’ve made. On the contrary, I think that I really put people down less than just about anyone and a lot of time approach people too positively, to the point where it almost can’t be justified. Like in JAIL BAIT, when the father tells about his war experiences, when his opinions are particularly horrible, we always deal with them very sensitively, in order to be clear that what’s horrible is what they’re saying and...not what they are.”
Time Out Tony Rayns
Fassbinder made this (for
TV) right after The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, in the year that Godard
made Tout va Bien. Like Godard's film, Fassbinder's is about a male-female
relationship in a 'political' context, but here the boy is 19 and the girl only
l4, so that their mutual love outrages more than one lower middle class taboo.
Despite a final flourish of misogyny (the girl betrays the boy after he's laid
his life on the line for her), Fassbinder's stance is very sympathetically
unsentimental; and his mixture of caricature (her parents), materialism (the
depiction of a factory production line), carefully stylised realism (the
central relationship), and a bold physical frankness, is more than usually
adroit. The movie created a censorship furore in
Wildwechsel is one of the very good Fassbinder films. It's a family-story with all the restrictions in a typical Bavarian Fassbinder-family. Eva Matthes is the daughter in her puberty who wants to explore sexuality. Harry Baer is the young Romeo. But as always with Fassbinder the people surrounding the two - parents - are enemies of the relationship. I don't know, why this Fassbinder-film is never been shown on TV again and why it never got released on VHS or DVD - lucky people who have the film on celluloid ;-) Maybe it has to do with the author Franz Xaver Kroetz, that this very good Fassbinder-film from the center of his oeuvre is not available.
Tonight I saw the infamous Wildwechsel, or Jail Bait, at the
Eva Mattes, age 18, plays Hanni, age 14. Hanni willingly has a sexual relationship with Franz, age 19 (played by Harry Baer). Hanni looks older than her age--say, 4 years older--as we cannot help but notice, since Hanni is nude or hornily pulling her clothes off in scene after scene. Franz gets busted for sleeping with a minor, but Hanni still wants him, and it all goes downhill from there.
This is an extraordinary level of cinematic manipulation by Fassbinder. He makes the audience feel guilty for watching a 14 year old girl (even though we know she is fictional), naked on the screen, in sexual situations. The only people who don't realize that Hanni is a sexual being are her conservative (Nazi daddy) parents, who blame Hanni for ruining their lives. Death threats, suicide threats, and tragedy upon tragedy ensue.
The emotional "vicious circles", (Elsaesser, 1976) are especially vicious in Jail Bait: the parent/child relationships go from bleak to bleaker to bleakest. None of the four main characters are sympathetic, and Hanni, the ostensible victim, has the blackest soul of them all.
MOMA's print was vintage '72 and kind of a dirty faded unrestored mess, especially at the very beginning. But that is a minor complaint. Jailbait contains early use of key Fassbinder imagery which return in film after film: the slaughterhouse, a child's dolls, and the ever present mirrors. The performances from Harry Baer and Eva Mattes as star crossed, twisted young lovers are heart wrenching.
Seeing Jail Bait, there is no wonder why it has never been released on VHS or DVD--this film truly pushes and challenges the limits of decency, in many ways. That's what makes it classic, essential Fassbinder.
Wildwechsel Fassbinder Foundation
EIGHT HOURS DON’T MAKE A DAY (Acht Stunden sind kein Tag) – TV episodes
Me and my brother used to watch this series when it was shown
Also there was Hanna Schygulla who is a top actress who starred in many of Fassbinders films. I would really like to get my hands on the series on DVD because it's not only charming but also a great landmark of contemporary television because of its documentary drama style.
Acht Stunden sind kein Tag Fassbinder Foundation
BREMEN FREEDOM (Bremer Freiheit: Frau Geesche Gottfried - Ein bürgerliches Trauerspiel) – made for TV B 86
This 1972 cinema-and-theater hybrid made for television confines its action to a stagelike platform that appears in front of a projected background. On the platform, which is furnished like a parlor, Geesche (Margit Carstensen) entertains her parents, a sibling, and a parade of husbands and lovers in a series of confrontations that demonstrates her increasing aggressiveness in taking over her family's business, something she achieves not quite mysteriously by serving coffee. Carstensen is a perfect portrait of hysteria and vengefulness and the perfect vehicle for the feminism of director Rainer Werner Fassbinder (who adapted his stage play with Dietrich Lohmann); the more perversely his female characters behave, the more consistently his narratives blame the culture that gives them no better options.
This is my most favourite Fassbinder's film to date (I might change my mind in the future as I have seen only 15 films of his.) The movie is represented in the form of a stage play,and this style works very effectively for me. I was stunned when I saw it. It is so raw, yet so moving. It is so minimal, yet so intense. The thing that impressed me the most is the song that Geesche sang repeatedly. For the first time she sang it, I just thought her voice expressed a strong emotion very well. But for the latter times she sang it, it becomes heart-rending. It breaks my heart and makes me want to cry. Her grief was not only expressed, but also instilled into my heart. No matter how brutal or cruel she was, I feel it's hard to hate her. One can understand her reason for killing very well.The opening shot that focuses on her moving feet impressed me a lot. And it never gets dull after that. The tension is maintained very well throughout the movie. The backdrop of the stage enhances my feelings and emotions to the utmost degree. Sometimes the backdrop is a view of the landscape, sometimes it is an enlarged image of her face. But it strikes me every time. It elevates this movie to the highest position. The acting is, of course, top-notch. Margit Carstensen does not only make her character come alive, but she also brings the heart of Geesche inside out. The props on the stage is very sparse, but very appropriately placed. A lot of scenes in this movie were shot from a meaningful angle--the angle that add an important meaning to its own scene. I can see that many shots were very carefully constructed. No big budget is required to make this kind of excellent movies. I feel this movie really stands out from other films of Fassbinder. Not only that its style is different, but its power, its intensity, and its haunting quality also make this movie transcend all. I think if I have another chance to hear that song again, I might not be able to control my tears any more.
Bremer Freiheit Fassbinder Foundation
WORLD ON A WIRE (Welt am Draht) – made for TV A 96
“I directed a series of two one-and-a-half-hour segments based on a novel by Daniel F. Galouyé. It’s a very beautiful story called WORLD ON A WIRE that depicts a world where one is able to make projections of people with a computer. And of course that leads to the uncertainty of whether someone is himself a projection, since in this virtual world the projections resemble reality. Perhaps another larger world made us as a virtual one? In this sense it deals with an old philosophical model, which here takes on a certain horror.”
Adaptated by Fassbinder and Fritz Müller-Scherz from a 1964 Daniel F. Galouyé novel Simulacron 3, where computers can create projections of people, leading one to wonder if they, themselves, are just a projection? This is a paranoid, ALPHAVILLE (1965)-style, corporate-controlled world of super computers where the company director mysteriously commits suicide, but not before muttering one of the prevalent themes of the film, “You are nothing more than the image others have made of you,” referring to the co-opting of his brilliant creation by an all-controlling inside elite, where programmed individuals are indistinguishable from actual humans. The powerful interests of the U.S. Steel corporation intervenes and wants to use the successor, Klaus Löwitsch as Fred Stiller, to manipulate the international markets, as the artificial computer design so exactly replicates our own world that the computer has the ability to accurately predict future trends before they happen. He meets Eva Vollmer, Mascha Rabben, the daughter of the deceased former director, and the two begin to realize that they may be artificial, controlled by a higher intelligence, their knowledge of which could cause a threat to those actually in control, so it is a world where love is threatened by the repressed police state. Can humans prevail? Initially shot on 16 mm, now blown up to 35 mm, this is riveting from start to finish, adding improbable flourishes of dark humor, simply a stunning, highly original and unusual film, with Fassbinder regulars Adrian Hoven, Ivan Desny, Günter Lamprecht, Margit Carstensen, Ingrid Caven, Ulli Lommel, Kurt Raab, and even a brief appearance by Gottfried John.
Certainly one prevalent theme is the Third Reich dream of world domination, only using a behind the scenes business model to accomplish what the German Army couldn’t achieve militarily. Whoever controls the computers controls the world, including a Virtual World of people who are all prisoners in this alternate world, like the most brilliantly designed gulag imaginable, as all of the artificial creations are programmed to work solely to benefit and improve the lives of those living at the highest level, the real humans, creating a Virtual Reality society that remains a METROPOLIS (1927) designed underground world, where captive artificial slaves can never escape to the higher ground. Fassbinder beautifully enhances this Nazi design as only he can, through a staged musical production in a beer hall, actually the Alcazar in Paris, where Solange Pradel performs her smoky Marlene Dietrich renditions of “See What the Boys in the Back Room Will Have” and “Lili Marleen,” sung to the shadowed images of marching boots. Actually much of the futuristic design of the film was shot inside shopping malls, upscale hotels, and in the streets of Paris and Munich, adding that 70’s impersonalized, avant garde, corporate glass-windowed skyscraper look that defined Alan J. Pakula’s modernist THE PARALLAX VIEW (1974) a year later, also using an oblique and radically abstract electronic score by Gottfried Hüngsberg that reflects psychic distress, but also a clever use of Wagner’s Liebestod, synthesized Bach, Strauss, and Peter Green’s strangely hypnotic “Albatross.” Much of the first half introduces the viewer to the concept of a simulated world, while the second half shows Stiller growing ever more suspicious and paranoid, feeling continuously threatened, like a rat in a maze, as if he’s being hunted down by the controllers at the highest levels.
Time Out New York Joshua Rothkopf
Never mind how inconceivable it is that busy Rainer Werner Fassbinder took time between his two crowning provocations, The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972) and Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974), to make a three-and-a-half-hour sci-fi sizzler for German TV. (He also wrote several episodes of a blue-collar labor drama and directed an Ibsen play.) Let’s just be thankful he did. World on a Wire is the discovery of the season, rarely screened in America but very much a key chapter in Fassbinder’s story—a step toward bigger budgets and slicker production values, yet clarifying of his core artistic legacy.
Fashionable nerds will compare the knotty tale—essentially about a supercomputer that creates a virtual reality—to Avatar, but the vibe here is closer to those cryptic, blue-ish mysteries that David Cronenberg used to make in Canada with people running around in lab coats. (Yes, that equals awesome.) A scientist (Löwitsch) hopes to get to the bottom of it, tugging dangerously at the fraying edge of what he thinks is reality. Fassbinder, adapting freely from Daniel F. Galouye’s deeply influential 1964 novel Simulacron-3, finds his usual themes in the genre material, notably social and sexual exploitation. But a chase or two certainly don’t hurt.
Rainer Werner Fassbinder's World on a
Wire always seems to be taking place in some bleak reception area, the kind
where there's always a faint echo and classical music dins in the background,
and the white, faux-leather chairs feel just a little too cold. Like Jean-Luc
Godard with Alphaville, Fassbinder evokes his dystopian future, where an
ominous super-corporation has perfected an all-encompassing reality simulator
called "the Simulacron," by simply filming in the most ultra-modern
and blandly functional sections of a city ― in this case, Munich, 1973.
The passage of time has, if anything, enhanced the creepy, otherworldly
ambience: all these square phones, orange chairs and appalling fur rugs really
do suggest some kind of homogenized corporate hell.
Originally aired in two parts on German television, World on a Wire is one of the least known and most rarely screened of Fassbinder's 40-plus film and TV projects. A new 35-mm print, which premiered last year at the Museum of Modern Art, has been making the rounds at rep cinemas and seen today, it feels like one of those movies that's somehow both tied to its moment and ahead of its time.
Its navigation of reality and virtual reality obviously anticipates our Facebook/World of Warcraft era, the corporation could be any of our major media conglomerates and the reality-shifting technophobia anticipates and influences The Matrix, eXistenZ, Avatar, Blade Runner and just about any other grown-up sci-fi film.
But the world of World on a Wire is a pretty unpleasant place to spend 205 minutes, and those minutes don't exactly fly by. Fassbinder directs the convoluted "sci-fi thriller"― in which the newly installed Simulacron project director (Klaus Lowitsch) experiences glitches in his world, with the higher-ups conspiring against reality ― in a way that perversely strips it of thrills. Many of Fassbinder's stable of actors appear as bureaucrats and sexpots, all seemingly instructed to act with as little charisma and chemistry as possible. When characters flirt or attend parties, the acts feel rote, and the film's lone sexual encounter is immediately followed by a betrayal.
This, of course, doesn't mean that World on a Wire isn't worth your time. In its cold, sterile way, Fassbinder's universe has much of the same power as Alphaville and little of the escapism. And surely this is the only movie you'll see this year with a platonic conversation about whether a cup of coffee is really just the idea of a cup of coffee.
CINE-FILE: Cine-List Ben Sachs
Perhaps the key stylistic flourish in the films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder is an exquisite, Old Hollywood-style tracking shot around actors who are in stasis or else performing simple actions with mechanical precision. This strategy, which became central to Fassbinder's cinematic language early in his career and would persist until the end, conveys one of the director's most enduring themes: that modern life suppresses individual emotion through a punishing, economic-based concept of social utility. Yet these moments also reveal Fassbinder's underlying romanticism, his belief in the freedom that could exist in art where it could not in real life. These are among the cinema's most crystallized expressions of cinephilia, as well as the most impassioned: Only someone who loved movies as much as Fassbinder would feel so brutally betrayed by the systems that made their beauty impossible in life. WORLD ON A WIRE, the two-part film Fassbinder made for German television in 1973 and which is now circulating in a new restored print, is rife with shots like these; the cinematographer, Michael Ballhaus, was surely the most ingenious of Fassbinder's cameramen when it came to realizing grandiose ideas on very small budgets. (He would go on to shoot several of Martin Scorsese's most visually impressive features, including AFTER HOURS and GOODFELLAS.) It's one of Fassbinder's most allusive works, incorporating science fiction, a detective story, melodramatic romance, and even a few musical numbers. The story, appropriately, concerns fantasies within fantasies, as a government employee working on a secret virtual reality project discovers that his world is itself a projection. Once aware of his life's artificiality, he attempts a doomed mission to disseminate this knowledge, only to become a pariah hounded by the authorities. Broadly speaking, the film follows a narrative arc identical to that of the more realistic ALI: FEAR EATS THE SOUL, which Fassbinder would make later that year. WORLD ON A WIRE can be read as epic allegory, though much of it plays as straight-ahead genre storytelling. (As Christian Braad Thomsen notes in his critical biography Fassbinder: The Life and Work of a Provocative Genius, Fassbinder approached TV as a means of connecting with a larger audience than he did through his plays and theatrical films.) The final hour consists largely of chase scenes and conspiratorial revelations that wouldn't be out of place in, say, an Alan J. Pakula movie. But even here, Fassbinder makes the material entirely his own, developing an odd, languid pace that emphasizes the film's eerie unreality. Some have criticized the film's conclusion—incidentally, one of the few happy endings in Fassbinder's oeuvre—as failing to resolve the numerous themes introduced in the densely packed first half. That's a fair criticism to level at a work by a 28-year-old filmmaker directing at least half-a-dozen scripts a year, as Fassbinder, extraordinarily, was doing at this time. Still, there's no denying this remarkable work ethic also produced a feeling of urgency (as well as a tense paranoia) that's still palpable four decades after WORLD ON A WIRE was made. No less than any other film of his career, it illustrates the radical will behind Fassbinder's art. As he would describe it, "[My films] developed out of the position that the revolution should take place not on the screen, but in life itself, and when I show things going wrong, I do it to make people aware that this is what happens unless they change their lives... I never try to reproduce reality, my aim is to make mechanisms transparent, to make it obvious to people that they must change reality." (1973, 205 min, 35mm)
Viewers thinking that they have stumbled into a very rough draft
of The Matrix while watching Rainer Werner Fassbinder's TV knock-off World
on a Wire (Welt am Draht) can be excused. This lengthy
205-minute mini-series is science fiction in sound effects only, though, and
really serves Fassbinder the chance to play with imagery he liked from American
This despite the fact that the film is clearly influenced by Godard's 1965 faux sci-fi excursion Alphaville, even to the extent of casting that film's star, Eddie Constantine, in its second half. Yet the influences are really melodramatist Douglas Sirk and Andy Warhol, with a little Antonioni thrown in and with hommages made to Warhol's supposedly favorite movie, the excruciatingly boring yet still significant Creation of the Humanoids. Warhol liked that film because it was boring. If you are familiar with this incredibly talky movie, you will know where World on a Wire is going with its premise.
Aired originally on West German television in 1973, and based on a novel called Simulacron 3 by Daniel F. Galouye, Wire leisurely tells the tale of one Fred Stiller (Klaus Lowitsch). He comes to the aid of a corporation with a government contract after his mentor, inventor Vollmer, dies suddenly and mysteriously, of "headaches." Vollmer's invention is a simulated world in a computer designed to guide futurologists about the shape of things to come. Stiller is followed, questioned, flirted with, intimidated by the corp.'s CEO, and even makes a trip of two into the simulated world, all while ostensibly trying to meet the boss's deadline and secretly trying to solve the mystery of … well, of something.
Aside from Fassbinder's film anticipating such successors as The Matrix and The Thirteenth Floor, it's not really for sci-fi fans. Rather, it is for worshippers of the director and students of existential genre variations on the order of westerns such as McCabe and Mrs. Miller or crime melodramas like The Long Goodbye (both by Altman, in these examples). Wire was made at the height of that time in the 1970s when directors young and old were questioning if not undermining the genre materials handed to them. Wire came in the middle of Fassbinder's 80-film, 13-year career, after The Merchant of Four Seasons, which brought him attention in New York City as part of the German New Wave, and before The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, and Effi Briest – that is, Fassbinder's foray into the structures of melodrama and the passions of female performers, of which Wire is in some small part a precursor.
Like Godard, Fassbinder utilizes existing places and settings to create his "futuristic" world. It's a world in which glass buildings and Mannix-like computer mainframes are made strange by recontextualization and weird outer space music and effects. Wire is a world of fragmented paintings on walls, glass surfaces through which Fassbinder continually shoots his subjects (a habit Todd Haynes picked up), and long takes that follow people talking. The plot is easy to grasp; Fassbinder simply wanted it to be a bore, maybe because he resented having to make the thing, or because that's how he viewed the future. The essential normality of what is said and done is undermined by Warhol-esque, Antonioni-staged parties where people don't circulate but pose, staring off at nothing. It's a world where people exist to be looked at. It may be that the only aspect of the film that really interested Fassbinder was the tension between the questing Stiller and his boss, Herbert Siskins (Karl-Heinz Vosgereau), a smooth domineering industrialist, always in control. Fassbinder was fascinated by such power relationships and it is not always to his credit that he often "took the side" of the figure with the upper hand.
World on a Wire has been difficult to see since its initial airing, but the R. W. Fassbinder Foundation has prepared the film for release this year, and it will be released by the Criterion Collection.
World on a Wire is Rainer Werner Fassbinder's
mind-bending sci-fi epic, a two-part, over three-hour examination of the nature
of reality, thought and perception. Based on Daniel Galouye's sci-fi novel Simulacron
3, the film is concerned with the creation of simulated computer worlds,
populated with synthetic, programmed beings unaware that they're living in a
virtual reality rather than a tangible flesh-and-blood world. Fred Stiller
(Klaus Löwitsch) is appointed to become the technical director for this "simulacron"
computer system after the project's previous administrator seemingly has a
mental breakdown before dying in an accident. Almost immediately, however,
Stiller is subjected to tremendous pressures and odd incidents relating to the
computer and the company he's working for. There's some kind of industrial
intrigue going on — the company's director, Siskins (Karl Heinz Vosgerau) wants
to use the computer to benefit his corporate friends — and bizarre events make
Stiller doubt his own sanity. A man (Ivan Desny) tries to tell Stiller about
the strange circumstances of his predecessor's death, only to disappear into
thin air — and soon enough, no one even remembers that this man ever existed.
Stiller experiences other strange visions, and is beset by crippling headaches
almost constantly, quickly developing a paranoid outlook that encompasses
nearly every moment of his day and everyone he meets.
It's obvious enough where all of this is heading, even before Fassbinder explicitly states the twist in the final scene of the first part. Yet the film's careful study of the layers of reality remains engrossing, because Fassbinder's visual mastery is at its highest level here. There is little in the plot to justify the film's length, and the characters are, for the most part, doll-like ciphers prone to staring emptily into space, posing within Fassbinder's meticulously arranged compositions, caught in frames of mirrors, remaining static as the camera turns circles around them. Fassbinder underlines the film's central theme of perception by continually distorting and reflecting his images, emphasizing how what we see is dependent on the angle from which we're looking. In the film's opening scenes, Stiller's predecessor Vollmer (Adrian Hoven) accosts two government representatives, asking them to look at themselves in a handheld mirror and describe what they see. They are not really themselves, he says, they are just images, images imagined by other people. Even beyond the film's sci-fi premise, this idea resonates: each person is the culmination of images created and maintained in the minds of others, and what we see when we look in the mirror is not necessarily what others see when they look at us.
To this end, Fassbinder inventively packs his film with mirrors
and distortions. In his melodramas, such devices are stylized routes into
character, picked up from Sirk, a way of positioning characters in abstracted
relationships to one another, capturing two reactions in the same frame. Here,
the perpetual mirroring emphasizes how fragile vision is, how easily it is
subjected to distortions. When Stiller goes to see Siskins one afternoon in the
latter's office, Siskins has a tremendous glass funnel perched on top of his
desk. The curved glass distorts Siskins' face, rendering him at times
multi-eyed and blurry, almost insectile, his smirk stretched out so that it
seems to stretch across his entire face. It's a subjective image of Stiller's
boss, a collection of attributes rather than a coherent image of a face. In the
reverse shot, when Fassbinder turns the camera onto Stiller instead, his face
is reflected in the shiny surface of the desk, but chopped in half, only his
eyes looking out hauntingly as though trapped within this reflective prison,
his mouth and the lower half of his face cut off by the desk's edge. The boss
is distorted and magnified, his all-seeing eyes multiplied, while the employee
is made voiceless and trapped; the mirrors don't lie.
Unless, sometimes, they do. Later Siskins visits the computer lab — with its funhouse mirror walls and clusters of TV screens — to watch a computer doppelganger of himself perform a song-and-dance routine as programmed by Stiller. Fassbinder frames the image so that we see the the TV monitor, and Siskins' warped reflection next to it, and layered on top of this, Siskins' back as he watches the screen. It's a man and, essentially, two false doppelgangers of himself, one computer-created and one a blurred reflection of himself stretched out across the wavy surface of the wall. Still another form of mirroring exists in the scene where Stiller goes to visit his sick secretary Maya (Margrit Carstensen). She is lying down, looking at herself in a mirror to put on lipstick, but because the mirror is two-sided, the side facing the camera actually reflects the offscreen Stiller. One side of the mirror then presumably shows her, while he appears in the other, so that the mirror becomes a link between them, their reflections joined like the image of Janus, two sides of the same head. The mirror divides and distorts, it reveals the truth, it connects people and shatters the illusion of a smooth, tangible reality. When Vollmer dies at the beginning of the film, he is seen through a sheet of cracked glass, as though reality itself has been broken by his departure from it.
Fassbinder makes these examinations of sensation and perception
the film's true focal point. The ostensible thriller plot is inert, and the
corporate intrigue simply seems irrelevant, to the point that when Stiller
finds out the answers to questions relating to the corporate politics, rather
than the more metaphysical mysteries he's really interested in, he simply
laughs. There is an analogue here for those religious and philosophical ideas
that insist that the world is essentially an illusion, or at best a warm-up for
the afterlife. If the world is not real, or is only a secondary stage of
reality, if the "true" life is on a higher plane of reality, it
renders the physicality and events of the world somewhat moot. Once Stiller begins
to believe that his world is only an illusion that's secondary to another
world, he ceases to care about any of the things had previously occupied his
attention: job, friends, love, even life and death itself. Does the world
become irrelevant in comparison to the idea of Heaven? This would explain
Stiller's "ascent" at the finale of the film.
So Fassbinder makes the whole film one big visual metaphor, his camera moves mapping out Stiller's quest for truth. During a meeting with Siskins and a government official, Stiller wanders around the large space of the office, swinging around on a chair in the foreground, then flinging open a pair of unusual double doors, the kind usually seen between neighboring suites in hotels. Finally, he appears again at the rear of the space, visible only from a distance in a mirror. It's like he's constantly searching, always peeking behind the doors, into closed-off rooms. He does a lot of spinning around in chairs too, like a bored and restless kid, eager to discover something new, or simply a man who wants to see the fullest possible 360-degree view of his surroundings. In one of the film's most playful scenes, Siskins and Stiller conduct an entire conversation while they're both spinning around in their chairs, rendering office politics goofy and funny.
These oddball touches, like a dance club populated with muscular Arab models and topless dancers, give the film its distinctively surreal Fassbinderian aura. It's a weird and disjointed film, perhaps a little repetitive, padded out with multiple scenes of Stiller trying to explain his theories to skeptical listeners. But the characters, flat as they are, make an impact, because Fassbinder has developed such a versatile troupe of actors that even when most of them are just making token cameo appearances (Eddie Constantine as a dapper but sinister businessman; Kurt Raab as Stiller's bald, oafish office rival; El Hedi ben Salem as a quiet, sensitive bodyguard) they are vivid and memorable. This is a fascinating experiment from Fassbinder, transplanting his usual cast and his Sirkian aesthetic strategies into the unfamiliar genre of the sci-fi thriller, with very compelling results.
Fassbinder’s prophetic 1973 sci-fi work ‘World on a Wire’ finally sees theatrical release Independent Ethos, July 24, 2011
World on a Wire Chuck Stephens from Film Comment, May/June 2010
Film Monthly.com – World on a Wire (1973) Daniel Engelke
World on a Wire J. Hoberman from The Village Voice, July 20, 2011
Fassbinder's Sci-Fi "World on a Wire" at MOMA J. Hoberman from The Village Voice, April 13, 2010
World On a Wire | Fassbinder Rediscovered « The Fade Out David D. Robbins Jr. which includes Fassbinder’s 10 favorite films
World on a Wire - Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation also seen here: Welt am Draht
Film Star Postcards*: Barbara Valentin
MIFF 2010 Diary: Part 9 « Cinema Autopsy Thomas Caldwell
Review: World On a Wire - Reviews - Boston Phoenix Peter Keough
New York Times (registration req'd) A.O. Scott, April 13, 2010
Film - A Bold Vision, Still Ahead of Its Time Dennis Lim from The New York Times, April 1, 2010
Fassbinder's Visionary Science-Fiction Thriller to Have a Weeklong ... The New York Times Art Daily, April 5, 2010
NORA HELMER (A Doll’s House) – made for TV B 86
“We haven’t changed anything, just cut quite a bit. In our version, for example, Nora doesn’t go away at the end. she stays, since in ten thousand families there’s the same blow-out between Nora and Helmer, and usually the woman doesn’t leave, even when she probably should. In fact she has no other options, and so people always find some way to accommodate themselves, which in the end is even more horrible...I’ve never read anything by Ibsen to the effect that Nora was supposed to be a pioneer of women’s liberation.”
Rainer Werner Fassbinder's shortened 1973 version of Ibsen's A Doll's House--shortened to the extent that the heroine (Margit Carstensen) no longer leaves home at the end, a change Fassbinder defended as more realistic. As in Martha (also 1973), Carstensen seems to elicit a baroque mise en scene from Fassbinder; despite a bleached-out look from having been shot on video, it's still an eyeful.
Fassbinder adapted and directed this version of Ibsen's A Dolls House for television. Radical and yet intensely faithful to the text, Fassbinder gives Nora (Castensen), Ibsen's heroine, self-awareness and confidence right from the word go, which in turn gives the whole production a fierce energy. Spare and brutally harsh, the use of video camera is utterly brilliant, wringing every last nuance from the actors' words. Stunning.
Fassbinder's version of Ibsen's A Doll's House for television develops a radical yet scrupulous reading of the play. Stripped of sentimentality and giving Nora (Carstensen) self-assurance from the start, this studio production delivers its critique of bourgeois marriage with a force rarely matched even in the theatre. The brutal prose, harshly delivered, is complemented by the unique visual spectacle which Fassbinder manages to wring from a videotape studio. Achieving effects of lighting and framing which British TV directors have never dreamed of, he makes the oppressiveness of Nora's home as concrete as a tank-trap. Almost every scene is shot through latticework, net curtains, cut glass, ornate mirrors, so that the characters are perhaps visually obscured but always intellectually focused. All the BBC's producers of tele-classics should be chained to chairs and forced to watch it.
I've now seen four film versions of Ibsen's "A Doll's House", and
this has to be the best. The first thing that grabs your attention is the art
direction/camera-work,which shows us everything through glass, through netting,
or reflected through multiple mirrors. This really drives home the unreal
hothouse atmosphere, the "Doll's House", in which Nora lives. (As is
well known, the story revolves around her comfortable but barren relationship
with her proud but possessive husband Torvald).
The acting is wooden, but it needs to be. Naturalistic acting would look out of place in such a deliberately-artificial setting, whereas the long static poses bring out the gilded-cage ambiance of the story.
The look of this film is typical of Fassbinder's classical period, which I consider his best; it produced such films as Petra von Kant, Chinese Roulette, and Effi Briest. Nora Helmer is at least as good as the others, it's a pity it's so little known. I had to go to a lot of trouble to get my copy, which doesn't even have English subtitles. (Fortunately, the story is so familiar that most viewers will be able to follow it; otherwise, watch an English language version first - the Jane Fonda or Claire Bloom versions are easily available).
I am pleased to say that the picture quality is good, considering that the movie was made for the tiny Saarland-TV and then distributed by the equally tiny All-video. Picture quality is essential in a production which depends so much upon artistic visuals.
Great stuff, one of the master's best; I hope it will get a proper release on DVD someday. Wouldn't it be nice to have a multi-set combining this with the Julie Harris, Jane Fonda and Claire Bloom versions?
ALI: FEAR EATS THE SOUL (Angst essen Seele auf) A 97
An extraordinary look at race and age discrimination, told with Fassbinder’s typical stark emotional despair along with a burning intensity, exploring the deeply felt humanism in a doomed love affair, textured with the details of working-class life. Rainer plays the racist son (Eugen) of an aging charwoman, Brigitte Mira, a 60-ish former member of the Nazi party who marries a 20-years her junior Moroccan guest worker, El Hedi Ben Salem, a relationship that disturbs everyone, including the viewer, also starring a voluptuous Barbara Valentin as the barmaid. This is one of Fassbinder’s gutsiest, most emotionally brutal and thought provoking films, combining poignant melodrama with somewhat exaggerated social satire, lingering on motionless faces staring out of a neighbor’s doorway, soon to retreat behind closed doors, providing a backdrop of near-universal mockery and hostility from neighbors, such as the caricatured racist grocer and gossiping woman, an homage to F.W. Murnau’s 1924 silent film, THE LAST LAUGH, while her grown children show her complete indifference, winner of the International Critics Prize at the Cannes Film Fest.
This is the first-time collaboration with Fassbinder cameraman Jürgen Jürges, who continues thirty years later to make films with Michael Haneke. Also, on a lurid note, El Hedi Ben Salem, who plays Ali, was one of Fassbinder's former lovers and he committed suicide in a French jail, reportedly after Fassbinder spurned him, the first of two lovers who committed suicide, including, later, Fassbinder himself.
Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1973):
“I had already used the story in a film once, it was actually in THE AMERICAN SOLDIER, where it was told by a barmaid, in a long sequence where the girl sits on a bed. It’s about an old German woman who is around 60 and a young Turkish guest worker. They marry and one day she is murdered. Nobody knows who the killer is – whether it was her husband or one of his Turkish pals. But I didn’t want to tell the story the way it actually happened. I wanted to give the young Turk and the old woman a chance to live together.”
A deceptively simple tale of the doomed love affair between
an ageing cleaner (Mira) and a young Moroccan gastarbeiter (immigrant
worker) which exposes the racial prejudice and moral hypocrisy at the heart of
modern West German society. Drawing upon the conventions of
Vital link between Douglas Sirk's All That Heaven Allows and Todd Haynes's recent homage Far From Heaven, Rainer Werner Fassbinder's achingly tender, brutally wise 1974 masterpiece retained Sirk's scenario of a scandalizing romance and rendered it extra verboten. Widening the age gap and igniting a racial fuse (which Far From Heaven would later co-opt), the German wunderkind also turned the lovers against each other as soon as they'd made headway in their battle with social prejudice. This double-disc set—gorgeous and abundant even by Criterion standards—features an impeccable transfer, spiffed-up subtitles, and filler-free extras: interviews with star Brigitte Mira (vivacious, motormouthed, and apparently a cabaret performer—at 93!) and editor Thea Eymèsz (who looks ready to relive her Fassbinder-provoked breakdown as she recounts the insanely compressed production schedule); a 2002 autobiographical short starring Mira and edited by Eymèsz, about director Shahbaz Noshir's encounter with neo-Nazis while starring in a stage production of Ali; and a 20-minute intro by Haynes, triangulating Sirk's film and its two descendants with pinpoint eloquence and infectious fan ardor.
Superficially a story about a friendship and marriage between Emmi (Brigtte
Mira), a lonely, widowed charlady, and Ali (Ben Salem), a Morrocan mechanic
half her age, this film is much deeper. Their relationship is viewed with angry
disapproval and even hostility by the pair's friends, and through this
Fassbinder explores racism and prejudice in modem-day
The film is a remake of Douglas Sirk's 1955
Over a thirteen year period, Fassbinder averaged a film every 100 days, which prodigious and surely draining output makes this film all the more amazing. A more straightforward narrative tale than some of his work, Fear Eats The Soul nevertheless demonstrates Fassbinder's great social, political and psychological awareness, and the way in which he was able to articulate. It is also more approachable than certain of his other films, which makes it all the more worthy of viewing by those who might otherwise be disinclined to attend one of his films; at least in this case they would be missing out.
Fear Eats the Soul, screening Wednesday and Thursday, is in many
respects the pivotal film in Fassbinder's long filmography, marking the
transition from Brechtian principles to Sirkian ones. The contrast to
Fassbinder's early films could hardly be more stark; fear traffics in bold
colors and melodramatic situations, a far cry from the rough-hewn aesthetics
and angst-filled pauses of a movie like Beware of a Holy Whore. After
helping organize a retrospective of German expatriate Douglas Sirk's
With time on his hands in between major projects, the ever-industrious Fassbinder churned out a ‘quickie’ remake of a film by one of his favourite directors, Douglas Sirk. All That Heaven Allows (1956), scripted by Peg Fenwick, is a classic evocation of Eisenhower-era social repression in middle-class America: respectable middle-aged widow Jane Wyman (then 41) scandalises her family, friends and neighbours when she falls in love with her free-spirited gardener, Rock Hudson (then 30). The third cinematic version of the story is Todd Haynes’ Far From Heaven, which nods to Sirk’s Imitation of Life (1958, itself a remake of John M Stahl’s 1934 original) by making the gardener black – Haynes eliminates the age-gap factor by casting Julianne Moore (then 41) and Dennis Haysbert (then 47) in the key roles.
Fassbinder diverges from Sirk and Haynes by setting his tale in ‘the
present’ – mid-seventies
Fassbinder plays down the class aspects emphasised by Sirk and Haynes: Emmi is, like Ali, a manual worker – a cleaner. Instead, he dramatically widens the age-gap: it’s hard to tell Ali’s age, but he’s probably in his mid-30s. Emmi is in her sixties – and it’s this, rather than the racial ‘barrier’, which emerges as the biggest threat to their relationship. Emmi does her best to satisfy Ali’s carnal needs, but he doesn’t seem entirely satisfied and seeks further ‘entertainment’ with the younger (but spectacularly hard-faced) barmaid (Barbara Valentin) at his local pub - though from what we’re shown their lovemaking is stilted to the point of inactivity.
That’s rather more than we see of Emmi and Ali, however – there’s a brief
scene early on with a cut that strongly implies sex, but nothing at all after
the pair get married (they emerge from the register office to a bleak scene of
rain and slagheaps). We see even less of Mira naked than we do of
‘octogenarian’ Ruth Gordon in Harold
and Maude, which was severely bowdlerised by the nervously prudish
It’s also hard to know exactly how to take the Bavarian boorishness Eugen represents, and which is shared by the vast majority of the characters on view – is this an accurate mirror of 1974 Munich reality, or a deliberately caricatured exaggeration? Sad to say, much of Fear Eats the Soul remains all too topical today – the Olympic terrorism incident seems to have altered the atmosphere in the city towards immigrants: “They’re all Arabs, you know – with bombs and all that” confides a neighbour to the (long-haired) policeman she’s summoned to break up a party in Emmi’s flat, a line that quite jarringly prefigures the paranoid aftermath of September 11th.
The few people we see who tolerate Emmi and Ali’s marriage seem to be motivated primarily by financial imperatives – her son only starts talking to her when he realises he can’t afford a babysitter. Those hostile to Emmi’s choice of partner are presented as stiff, cardboard figures, shockingly close-minded in their prejudices. As usual, Fassbinder’s approach is deliberately stylised, melodramatic and mannered, with several instances of characters stiffly intoning their lines as they sit in fixed tableaux, often surrounded by spectacularly ugly instances of mid-seventies clothing and furniture – vile décor for vile thoughts, indeed.
Fear Eats the Soul Chris Fujiwara Criterion essay, June 23, 2003
Senses of Cinema (Julian Savage) The Conscious Collusion of the Stare: The Viewer Implicated in Fassbinder's Fear Eats the Soul, September 2001
ANGST ESSEN SEELE AUF Ed Lowry from Film Reference
Angst essen Seele auf (Ali: Fear Eats The Soul) Tom von Logue Newth from FilmFracture, September 28, 2009
Rediscovering ALI: FEAR EATS THE SOUL Jonathan Rosenbaum, July 29, 2009
Slant Magazine Ed Gonzalez
Reverse Shot (Chris Wisniewski) Lie to Me, Late Summer 2006
Turner Classic Movies dvd review Lang Thompson
Kinocite review Beth Gilligan
Bright Lights Film Journal Adam Bingham, November 2003
Images Movie Journal David Ng, 2003
Critic After Dark Noel Vera
VideoVista review Gary McMahon
My Year of Fassbinder: Heaven & Fear | SpoutBlog Karina Longworth from SpoutBlog, March 21, 2008
Nina Simone Meets Fassbinder. Clip of the Day. | SpoutBlog Karina Longworth from SpoutBlog, March 31, 2008
digitallyOBSESSED.com (Jeff Ulmer) dvd review Criterion Collection
Q Network Film Desk (James Kendrick) dvd review [4/5] Criterion Collection
Talking Pictures (UK) review Howard Schumann
FilmExposed Magazine Chris Power
Movie Reviews UK review [4/5] Damian Cannon
Strictly Film School Acquarello
Turner Classic Movies dvd review a compilation of capsule reviews
DVD Times Noel Megahey, reviews the 8-disc Region 2 DVD release, The Rainer Werner Fassbinder Commemorative Collection Volume 2
Log › Angst essen Seele auf (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1974) Clint offers a photo sequence on the film from Log, February 28, 2009
Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times in 1974
DVDBeaver.com - Review [Gary W. Tooze] a comparison
Brigitte Mira Obituary by Hugh Rorrison from The Guardian, March 25, 2005
Ali: Fear Eats the Soul The Auteurs
MARTHA – made for TV B+ 91
Fassbinder Bibliography (via UC Berkeley) Cahiers du Cinema (Jan 1996), by Frederic Strauss
"A review of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's film Martha, which was made for German television in 1973 and has been recently rereleased. The story of a violent encounter of love, hate, scorn, and possession between a man and a woman, the film is initially not one that is easy to enjoy. Yet despite its seriousness, Martha includes moments of humor and lightness and remains a work for which Fassbinder deserves much admiration."
My favourite Fassbinder
feature (1973; not shown in the
The everyday fascism Fassbinder dissects often rests on the simple observation that there are elements of sado-masochism even in such respectable bourgeois relationships as true romance and happy-ever-after marriage. Here, his script an adaptation of a story by Cornell Woolrich, he takes the staples of the Sirk melodrama (love at first sight, a big-dipper courtship, a honeymoon drive) and stands them on their heads, combining '40s costumes and movie references with recognisably real locations and high colour photography. He forces to their logical extremes the attitudes implicit in the woman's weepie and the little woman's traditional craving for a strong and competent man, pushing a sentimental romance into a high camp study of SM, full of images of vampirism, claustrophobia and haunted house genre movies. With no explicit references to a world beyond the screen, with indulgently aesthetic settings and outlandishly theatrical performances (notably from Carstensen as the perennially hapless victim), he creates a dazzling baroque abstraction with unsettling relevance to even the most mundane domestic partnerships.
This made-for-TV movie boasts some glorious, opulent
cinematography by Michael Ballhaus, highlighting the fact that it was one of
director Rainer Werner Fassbinder's rare excursions into the upper class. But
the ornate sets and colorful camerawork only belie the disturbed nature of this
truly sick film. Margit Carstensen (The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant)
stars as the title character, a skinny, skeletal woman who is vacationing in
Possibly the most twisted film of Rainer
Werner Fassbinder's career, Martha (a favorite of his frequent
cinematographer Michael Ballhaus) catalogs the tyrannical hold a bourgeois
husband has over his wife. The similarities between this absurd tragicomedy and
Luis Buñuel's Él (itself a precursor of
sorts to Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo) are unavoidable, and as such
Fassbinder's film plays out as a loose remake of Buñuel's Mexico-era
masterpiece. (Even the film's elaborate dinner sequence brings to mind Buñuel's
warped renditions of the Last Supper for both Viridiana and The Exterminating Angel.)
Margit Carstensen stars as Martha, a librarian who marries a rich businessman,
Helmuth (Karlheinz Böhm), and finds herself slowly stripped of her freedom: he
forces her to read a book on construction and listen to his favorite music and
quits her job at the library without telling her.
The film opens with a black man entering Martha's hotel room while she vacations in
In Martha's pill-popping mother (a hysterical Gisela Fackeldey), Fassbinder sees the future of the film's younger domestic prisoners. "She has a right to death," says Helmuth as he watches the old woman overdose in front his daughter. The great irony here is obvious: although he believes everyone is entitled to death, he refuses to grant his own wife a right to life. Fassbinder unearths the man's patriarchal excuse for his wife's abuse during the couple's honeymoon. While reading The Disinherited Mind by Ellrich Heller (who observed the sterilized sobriety of Kafka's modern humanism), Helmuth insults his wife's intelligence and suggests that if a man can support his wife, it's embarrassing for her to work. When she half-sleepily defends female independence, he punishes her by letting her burn beneath the Italian sun. And though she now suffers from a severe sunburn, Helmuth passes his fingers threateningly over her skin and then mauls her sexually.
The reason Martha so easily suffers Helmuth's wrath then is because Helmuth's attacks are always preceded with reassurance. (She has no problem smoking on the veranda of their new home because he asks her nicely.) Trapped alone in their lonely castle, she brings a black cat into the house in order to surround herself with a living creature. He feigns sympathy, allows her to keep the cat, but kills the animal and ravages Martha right next to the carcass. However disturbing all of this may sound, Fassbinder plays the film's horrors and many social blunders for laughs. When Martha pretends not to have met Helmuth before at a dinner party, she defends her actions by saying, "What will mother think? She has such a smutty mind. She regards 'know' in the Biblical sense." Indeed, what with Martha being constantly surrounded by ominous jungle-like flowers and plants, Fassbinder sees Martha's struggle with Helmuth no different than the one between Adam and Eve.
Martha from Jim’s Reviews
Critic After Dark Noel Vera
Turner Classic Movies Jeff Stafford
Bright Lights Film Journal Ian Johnston, November 2004
Martha Jonathan Rosenbaum, June 18, 2009
Fulvue Drive-in dvd review Ron Von Burg
RAINER WERNER FASSBINDER Subterranean Cinema
Time Magazine [Richard Corliss] December 16, 2003
The Onion A.V. Club [Scott Tobias] also reviews IN A YEAR OF 13 MOONS
DVD Times Noel Megahey, reviews the 4-disc Region 2 DVD release, Rainer Werner Fassbinder Volume 1
FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW; Fassbinder on the Painfully Tight Bonds of Marriage Stephen Holden from The New York Times, September 24, 1994
EFFI BRIEST A- 94
aka: Fontane Effi Briest
Time Out review Tony Rayns
Late 19th century
This film has everything one could ask for: astonishing visual intelligence and imagination, wonderfully evocative, impeccably composed images that draw on silent cinema and painting, all perfectly adapted to the very moving story being told, and the period/milieu in which it unfolds: Effie Briest is presented as enclosed in the many different spaces (most of them - especially the interiors - saturated with stifling formality, social rectitude and conformity) through which she moves and in which she lives, or tries to live (the bird in the cage being a transparent symbol of all this). Quite simply, Fassbinder knows - knew - what "mise en scene" really means. The passage of time is brilliantly handled (through, for example, the use of the fade to white, intertitles and a moving voice-over narration), and the cast is flawless, as well as being flawlessly directed. A film of immense dignity and power, yet it somehow remains understated...
Fassbinder's Effie Briest is a tremendous film. It is not an 'adaptation' of
the book. It is much more complicated than that. The title as it appears in the
Fontane // Effie Briest // oder
then followed by a long quotation in the next frame. The word 'oder' (or) works as a hinge holding the first title onto its meaning (erklarung). The whole of Fontane's book is framed within the title. And the film is a meditation on the limits of enframement. Mirrors are everywhere, doubling and re-doubling the images and framings. To anyone that thinks the camera-work is sub par was obviously not paying attention. The execution of some of these scenes is unsurpassed by anyone.
The film consists of several different layers. There are inter titles, narration (direct quotations from Fontane), and then dialog. This would be the three orders of representation. Then there are the layers of sense. As an example take the figure of Effie Briest. She is never a unified subject that we can refer to as an individual. She is the contested site of a number of different forces in a number of fields of discourse. The most obvious evidence of this is the contestation of the name: Effie. Effie Briest? Effie Von Instetten? The film is about this change and the possibilities of refusal. What would it be to have ones own name and not the name of an other? She cannot. Or as her father (who is always called by the signifier 'Briest') continually says 'Das ist ein zu weites Feld'. He pronounces the limits of thought in its foreclosure. It is always a command and always ends the dialog: there is nothing left to say on this subject because we CANNOT think THAT (the repressed idea, which reveals itself as thinkable through the fathers disavowal of its thinkability).
Fassbinder: Life on the Edge Dennis Toth from Film Notes from the CMA (excerpt)
Rainer Werner Fassbinder became during his brief life one of the most dynamic and controversial figures in the modern