Franz Biberkopf (Günther Lamprecht) is trying to turn legit and the world won’t let him. He’s had to quit a job selling a Nazi paper because he has to wear the swastika and it’s turned former friends against him. His girlfriend Lina ( Elizabeth Trissenaar)is too religious to let him sell the sex-education booklets. There are ¾ of a million people in Berlin. How are they to live? Lina’s ‘uncle’ Otto (Marquard Bohm) advises them to join him selling shoe-laces door-to-door door-to-door. Franz meets a vulnerable widow. He looks like her husband. They have sex and she gives him money. Franz makes the mistake of telling Otto and sharing the money with him. But Otto betrays him and uses the knowledge Franz unwittingly provided to rob the widow. Betrayed by the people he trusted most, Otto runs away. His girlfriend goes in search of him in the dosshouse he’s staying in but he doesn’t want to be found. There are some lessons he’d rather not have learned.
What caught my eye in this episode was
The whole brown and amber of the film, even more pronounced in this episode.
The way so many shots include a background separator –store-fronts, internal doors and windows, mirrors, that frames faces or cast shadows.
The way Fassbinder adopts Döblin by including bible passages, songs into the narration itself.
The way intertitles re-direct narration (see below).
the beautiful passage where he goes buy flowers for the widow (see below).
In preparation for Fassbinder’s sprawling 15-hour television adaptation of BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ, I’ve been reading Alfred Döblin’s magnificent novel and looking at other adaptations. The 1931 version directed by Phil Jutzi is included in the Criterion box-set of the TV series. Jutzi joined the Communist Party in 1928 and, conveniently, the Nazi Party in 1933, and the ideological tensions and opportunism are evident in the film. I saw it last night and enjoyed it, though at 92 minutes it necessarily cuts out much of the novel’s plot and complexity.
It does capture some of the montage-y aspects of the novel, though you’d expect the film to be more inventive in this regard and it’s not. For Berlinophiles such as myself however, watching all that documentary footage in the film of Alexanderplatz as it was between the wars is a real pleasure. There is also a ‘People-on-Sunday’-ish interlude that well evokes the simple pleasures working people take even in very challenging economic times.
No government can forbid it…
The film has several songs, of which my favourite goes something like ‘Love comes, love goes, no government can forbid it.’ There’s a Weimar feel in the film’s attitudes to love and sex, and a depiction of a picaresque and dark Berliner humour. I also thought Heinrich George made for a very appealing if uncomplicated Franz Biberkopf. Döblin worked on the adaptation so he presumably sanctioned and had a hand in what was done to his novel. A not particularly good film of a great novel, though not without its pleasures.