Fassbinder’s work continues to surprise and delight. Yesterday I saw the first episode of EIGHT HOURS DON’T MAKE A DAY – JOCHEN AND MARION – in what must surely be one of the very earliest mini-series for television (5 episodes, aired 1972 through ‘73)? Each episode is as long as a feature-length film, with JOCHEN AND MARION being 107 minutes. The series is sub-titled ‘A Family Series’ and what one sees is Marxism with a pulse, dressed in warmth and with a heart. The episode begins with a birthday party for Oma (a delightful Louise Ulrich) where we’re introduced to the whole family, their various problems and the tensions between them, that are also part of the love they share and the mutual support they offer each other. The rest of the episode focuses on the developing relationship between Jochen (Jochen Epp) and Marion (Hannah Schygulla), conflicts at work in the factory, and Oma’s own search for independence.
I’ve yet to see Fassbinder depict a heterosexual relationship as tender, loving and mutually supportive as that between Jochen and Marion here. There was clearly an attempt to make it palatable for a family audience, but the film doesn’t eschew complexities. Jochen and Marion meet at an all night grocery dispenser. He picks her up and brings her to Oma’s party. She loves the family and loves him. She’s got a boyfriend but by the next day he’s gone: she knows what she wants. She’s honest as well as smart and sensitive. When Jochen sees her with a young boy, he thinks it might be hers. Would it matter if it was she asks? It’s a test. It clearly does matter but he loves her too much to let it. Luckily for him because it just turns out to be her younger brother.
It’s also quite rare to see a show take place at a factory. It’s not just the canteen. Here we do see the men actually working . It’s wonderful to see all of the Fassbinder ensemble in a working-class context here. The drama at work is that they’ve been promised a bonus if they meet a deadline that’s almost impossible. Jochen develops a mechanism so they can meet the deadline and get the bonus but then the bosses withdraw the bonus because it’s now too easy to achieve. His mates blame Jochen, and Marion helps him resolve the problem: How does the factory make money? By selling the pieces. Who makes the pieces? Jochen and his team do. They must fight back. They do, and work slowdowns make the bosses re-offer the bonus, though this time in writing.
If the show starts with a birthday party in which Jochen and Marion meet, it ends after the foreman’s funeral – he didn’t survive the tensions at work — where Jochen and Marion’s relationship is now solidified. It’s beautifully filmed, through flowers, chairs, factory machinery, always purposefully. It’s got a lovely gentle rhythm too, beautifully realised emotion, and all this is punctured with moments of comedy that border on the slapstick, get their laughs and help create the piece’s gorgeous emotional rhythms. Smart, hard-working, loving working people that won’t be stepped on. I can’t wait for the next episode.