Love Is Colder Than Death/ Liebe ist kälter als der Tod (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, West Germany, 1969)

LOVE IS COLDER THAN DEATH is Fassbinder’s first feature and in it are present elements that would reappear later on and help constitute what we’ve come to recognise as his style. The film begins with an image of him, shoft left of center, with the rest of the frame empty, smoking, reading the newspaper, legs crossed, overweight, menacing and sensual.

Soon we’ll see a shirtless black man, an object of desire, and when we see the head of a syndicate place his hand on his knee, the queerness will come to the fore.

There will be a Turk on the loose who must be got rid of. Hannah Schygulla is the love interest/whore, one of the great presences in film history, here so young, sensual, with a face that seems to communicate everything and yet remains inscrutable.

Fassbinder is not afraid to hold a close-up so that the eye can wonder all over Ulli Lommell’s handsome face,

Lommell clearly dressed to evoke Delon in LE SAMOURAI.

And Fassbinder knows how to compose a shot dramatically so whilst the film is clearly based on a play (and with bare sets, minimal furniture etc), it never feels stagebound, and indeed the setting is opened up (tellingly, to freeways and supermarkets).

It’s a cinephile’s film, dedicated to Chabrol, Rohmer, Jean-Marie Straub and Linio and Cuncho, the characters from Damiano Damiani’s A BULLET FOR THE GENERAL. I love the moment where they go steal sunglasses in a department store and he tells the saleswoman he wants glasses like Janet Leigh wore in PSYCHO. The film seems all tone – alienated, distanced, sensual — and attitude. Personal bonds are valued but deceive, the world is merely out to get you so maintain what you can of your freedom at all cost. All this in a world that’s exploitative and murderous but where numerous people are killed without once drawing blood. A distinctive first feature which I enjoyed very much. The frame grabs are from the Arrow release.


Film is currently playing on MUBI

José Arroyo

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