Tag Archives: Hannah Schygulla


Biberkopf (Günther Lamprecht) is drinking himself into a stupor in a new boarding house. He walks around the streets in an alcoholic delirium mistaking a delivery man for a pastor.  In his easy way he makes friends with the caretakers, the Greniers, who tell him all about the other tenants, their jobs and their plights. Baumann (Gerhard Swerenz), another neighbour, and via the wonderful parable of Job, dramatized via a card game, tells Biberkopf that the angels and the devil all want to help Biberkpof, each for their own reasons, but nothing will change until he helps himself. Eva arrives to help him out, tells him she still loves him and will always look out for him, but he doesn’t want to be a pimp and tells her he needs to find his own way out of his plight, which by the end of the episode, he does.


What caught my eye in this episode is the way Fassbinder dramatises:


  1. Visually the bottles and the sick
  2. He creates a whole world just through having Frau Grenier describe the other people in the building in some detail.


The limp-dick episode

3. The ‘limp-dick episode’ that plays out over the solicitor reading out his views on venereal disease resulting from male heterosexual adulterous sex.

4. The parable of job playing cards is brilliantly enacted.

The abbatoir

5.The parable of the slaughterhouse, poetically read by Fassbinder himself, with vintage pictures, is wonderful

The shepherd

6.The parable of the shepherd killing the sheep is a moment of dreamlike theatricality, very effective.

7. The dramatization of the Grenier’s dealings with the gangs, their double-crossings and their arrest. A major chapter in the Döblin novel, here told through others, almost as background, and wonderfully effective as social context and also as a critique of what seems respectable but is not.

8. The narrative tying to gether of seemingly loose ends begun with the poetic voice-over read by Fassbinder (see above). The encounter with with the news-seller where we get the beginning of the diatribe against marriage, and then the reunion with Meck (Franz Buchrieser), a step up towards criminality and a way of finding out what happened to Lina (Elizabeth Trissenaar), and a pessimistic and unsentimental view on relationships.

José Arroyo

THE THIRD GENERATION/ Die Dritte Generation (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, West Germany, 1979)

Fassbinder, after THE MARRIAGE OF MARIA BRAUN, once again handling the camera as well as directing,  and in a more Godardian mode: a searching intelligence trying to make sense of the world he lives in and unafraid to use whatever is within his reach to try to understand, dramatize, critique and convey.

The film has a collage-y dimension: the use of graffiti from men’s rooms, a class that begins by asking the significance of the revolution of 1848, a phrase from Schopenhauer used as code (“the world as will and imagination”), readings from Bakunin, discussions of Bresson and Tarkovsky. Fassbinder in intellectual mode and with a very precise setting — the place and dates of shooting: Nov. 1978 to Jan 22, 1979. The narrative nonetheless still clearly conveyed, the collage-y aspect in tension with the precision of the setting and a relatively linear narrative, with aspects clearly meant to irritate: there are overlapping sounds that become difficult to distinguish; the burnt-in text passing too quickly to fully comprehend.

At the beginning, the film promises: “A comedy in six parts about social games full of suspense, excitement and logic, cruelty and madness, like the fairy tales told to children to help them bear their lives unto death”. The plot revolves around a rich industrialist, P.J. Lurz (Eddie Constantine) who works in computers and surveillance, but his stocks are down as there is currently no demand for the services he provides. To fix that he’s funding a terrorist cell made up of ordinary middle-class people — a secretary (Hannah Schygulla, record shop assistant(Harry Baer), pianist (Udo Kier), housewife (Margit Carstensen) and teacher (Bulle Ogier – to kidnap rich industrialists, increase fear and thus increase demands for his products. What we see is a divided nation, a police state where truth is mediated through images. It’s a society of spectacle where, taking of from and reversing Godard’s famous dictum, ‘Film lies 25 times a second’, the extra second to take into account films on tv running a second faster. This is the film that begins with a computer screen and ends with an action and a television screen’s mediation of that action. within the same frame.

Manufactured Terrorism

According to Thomas Elsaesser, ‘after the first generation of idealists and the second of pragmatists comes the third generation of opportunists’. Here that third generation is a disorganised idealist bunch, alarmingly quick to submit unquestionably to the rules set hierarchically by the group, in all aspects of their lives, including sexually. Volker Spengler is the double agent, in Lurz’s pocket financially, and the one who betrays the groups in a Shrove Tuesaday that turns into a bloody carnival as cameras record a relatively open-ended ending. It’s a film I’ll need to think about some more.

Lies 25 frames a second

Ian Penman, worth quoting at length (from THOUSANDS OF MIRRORS):

“140. The triumphant rise of the Consumer Society is interrupted by its apparent nemesis or antithesis: terrorism. But is it really threatened by this danger – or ultimately strengthened? Isn’t terror in fact its mirror-image doppelgänger or twin? Ready at a moment’s notice to prop up its threatened values and unreliable economy. This is why Fassbinder’s The Third Generation is such a eky text: Consumer Society + Terror State x Digital Info +Surveillance = The Future. “

José Arroyo

THE MARRIAGE OF MARIA BRAUN/ Die Ehe der Maria Braun (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, West Germany, 1979)

The personal is always related to the social in Fassbinder’s work. With THE MARRIAGE OF MARIA BRAUN, the personal and the social are also interlinked to the historical. The film has been read as an allegory for the Federal Republic of Germany (Bundesrepublik Deutchsland) during the period of the ‘Economic Miracle’ – Maria Braun with her fine clothes and furs but dead inside – and is considered to be the first of what’s been called the ‘BDR’ trilogy, alongside LOLA (1981) and VERONIKA VOSS (1982).

It’s true that the film begins with a picture of Hitler crashing down, ends on a scene of the BDR’s victory over Hungary in the 1954 FIFA World Championships, where we hear the Federal Republic of Germany declared ‘Champion of the world’ over the radio, and then the final images, negatives of all the BDR chancellors to the time the film was made with the exception of Willy Brandt, who had exiled himself from Germany during the Nazi regime, and shown as negatives except for the last one where we see the transformation of the negative into the positive, giving the impression of devils made flesh. There’s no question that the film is making a commentary on history and the nation.

Germany in Ruins

That said it’s important the film also be considered as about Maria Braun. It’s a woman’s film and a melodrama, not unlike MILDRED PIERCE in some ways. A woman with responsibilities, living through hard times that make for difficult moral and ethical decisions but who ends up a successful business-woman. As books like Marta Heller’s A WOMAN IN BERLIN and Miriam Gebhardt’s CRIMES UNSPOKEN: THE RAPE OF GERMAN WOMEN AT THE END OF SECOND WORLD WAR, the period between the end of the War in 1945 and the end of the occupation in 1955, resulted in an unprecedented period of sexual violence.

Maria’s material success

Maria has few choices, she dabbles in the black market, she becomes a ‘hostess’, she navigates the world sexually: lucid, clear-eyed, intelligent and unsentimental about what she’s got to do to keep what’s left of her house fed, clothed, warm. Her mother prays for her soul but end up sewing her the type of dress she needs for her new ‘business’. The way she jumps on a cigarette, a sweet of a sip of alcohol whenever Maria brings something home vividly expresses the basic privations of the period. Yet as Maria says, ‘My mother loves me, supports me and cries with me over my pain but she leaves all the thinking up to me, thus leaving me no time to dream’.

The Mata-Hari of the Economic Miracle

The film is a melodrama in that you do side with the powerless, it’s ‘excessive’ and it’s designed to make an audience cry. The most important thing in her life is her marriage. But she only gets to enjoy it for one afternoon and one night after which her husband is sent to the Eastern Front. We see her with his picture on her back going day after day to the rail station to see if anyone’s seen him. She’s later told he’s died but he hasn’t. He returns to find her in the middle of coitus with a black man she’s now pregnant with. In the ensuing fight between the men she kills the American GI, Bill, who she’d been fond of. At the military hearing, when her husband hears her say she was fond of Bill but loves her husband, he decides to take the rap for her. She loses her baby. When the husband’s jailed, she vows she’ll learn to work and make enough money to build the house he would have built for them. She seduces an industrialist who falls in love with her and does exactly as she promised. Only to find in the end that it was all for nought. Except for her husband and her family, she’s put aside all feelings, feelings don’t keep you warm or fed. But it all blows up in her face.

Defiance Amidst the Ruins

If the film is about Maria, it’s also about marriage: THE MARRIAGE OF MARIA BRAUN. Maria fervently believes in it. There’s that wonderful screwball scene at the beginning when in the middle of a bombing they chase after the document and make sure it’s stamped. An institutional approval of their love. The certainty of her feelings for her husband, of her wish for a married life, is one of the films that make the film so romantic. Her husband feels the same way. Hearing of her love for him is what makes him take the rap for her. But this marriage, bounded between two explosions, what has it amounted to? One afternoon and one night of married life. After which, she’s cut of her feelings and sold her body. He’s suffered prison and ends up pimping her out. There illusions are romantic, the reality as with Fassbinder is something else again. It’s a film that begins with marriage but also with deadly explosions.

Marriage as Romantic Prison

A great film, I think, with a mysterious and charismatic performance by Hannah Schygulla. It’s the film that made her into an international star, and it was also West Germany’s biggest box office success internationally to that point.

José Arroyo

WHITY (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, West Germany, 1971)


I found WHITY a riveting film to see but a difficult one to process. The first of Fassbinder’s films I’ve seen, and this was his tenth feature, that I found amateurish, no, worse: dilettanteish. It was shot in one of Sergio Leone’s old sets in Almeria and is itself a combination of spaghetti western and half-penny Brecht/Weill imitation, Southern Gothic and Grand Guignol. The film is set in 1878, after emancipation. It was ostensibly inspired by Raoul Walsh’s BAND OF ANGELS where Yvonne De Carlo is a mulatto raised by her white father as an ante-bellum Southern Belle, only to find upon his bankruptcy and death that she’s to be sold off as chattel. The French title – L’ESCLAVE LIBRE is interesting to contemplate as Whity (Günther Kaufmann) is the opposite of that, he too is mixed race and living with his father but he’s been brought up as a slave, and the ideological forces of family and society keep him one longer after the law has freed him.

The film begins with the head of a fish being cut off, pans to a caged bird, clearly a symbol for Whity, who then enters the scene in the red livery of a house servant, and tells the cook that the pudding hasn’t been to their taste. ‘Lots of things aren’t to their taste’, says the cook, who looks like she’s in blackface. ‘You don’t understand me. I want them to like everything we do for them,’ he says. When he later berates the cook for singing black music, she spits in his face and calls him, ‘Whity!’

We’ll later learn that the cook, Marpessa (Elaine Baker) is his mother. His father is Ben Nicholson, the master of the house and one of the richest, most powerful and most crooked men in Texas. His father has a new young wife Katherine (Katrine  Schaake) who’s eager for him to die so she can collect his money and is already cheating on him. Whity has two half brothers from his father’s previous marriage, Frank (Ulli Lommel) a nasty piece of work who likes wearing garters and women’s lingerie to bed, and Davy (Harry Baer), who’s lacking most of his marbles and looks like Nosferatu’s sidekick. Like the Terence Stamp character in TEOREMA, Whity is happy to serve and service them all, even his father who gets off on whipping Whity. Whity who has selflessly offered to take Davy’s punishment, is clearly getting off on it as well. Whity is the figure upon whom all the other characters social, sexual and racial fantasies converge. His own desire is for Hanna (Hanna Shygulla) the local hooker/ saloon singer, who desires him also and who want to run off with him, something he can’t do until the end. A sexual masochism pervades the whole film.

The film is a work of cinephilia, with shots lifted directly from Nicholas Ray’s REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE and Josef von Sternberg’s MOROCCO, amongst many others. It also has two dazzling scenes, innovatively filmed by Michael Ballhaus: the reading of the will, and the descent of Hanna (Hannah Schygulla) and Whity into the saloon where Hanna, in good voice, gets to sing two quite forgettable songs in one shot.

Reading of the Will (above)

Descent into saloon (above)

It’s also clear that Fassbinder learned how to use mirrors, frames within frames, etc – how to make images beautiful and expressive through carefully composed mise-en-scène — way before his Damascene encounter with Sirk ‘s work (see above). But much of the rest seems slapdash, amateurish and chaotic (see the scene where Fassbinder as a sadistic cowboy makes a grab for Hannah, below).

What remains startling in the film is the way that it dramatizes and visualises race, links its oppression to sex and the family as well as other socio-economic hierarchies, and goes into areas American cinema still doesn’t dare to, though it would be interesting to compare this to the nearly contemporaneous Sweet Sweetback’s Baadaass Song (Mario Van Peebles, 1971) and Buck and The Preacher (Sidney Poitier/ Joseph Sargeant, 1972). The shoot had so many problems, some of them caused by Fassbinder’s unreciprocated desire for Kaufmann, that it became the source material for BEWARE THE HOLY WHORE. The film was shown at the Berlin Film Festival but remained unreleased and largely unseen until it began to crop up in television in the 80s. It was still quite difficult to get a hold of a copy and I had to order it from the US. It’s a film I’d like to read more on rather than see again.


José Arroyo




EIGHT HOURS DON’T MAKE A DAY: EPISODE FOUR – HARALD AND MONIKA (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, West Germany, 1973)


Fassbinder, like Sturges, Ford, Almodóvar and many other directors, seems to use the same company of actors over and over again, and part of the pleasure of watching their films is in familiarising oneself with the troupe and revelling in their skill and effectiveness as they play different roles over time. There’s no one I look forward to seeing in Fassbinder’s work more than Irm Hermann, so wonderful as the forceful presence that never speaks in THE BITTER TEARS OF PETRA VON KANT. Like Eve Arden she doesn’t need a big role to make her character felt.

This fourth episode has a twinned structure in that as Jochen (Gottfried John) and Marion (Hannah Schygulla) head to marriage, Harald (Kurt Raab) and Jochen’s sister Monica (Renate Roland) head to divorce. The tenderness, uncertainty and discussion of the first couple is juxtaposed with the patriarchal control, physical violence and lack of communication of the other. Luckily for Monica, she has the support of her female network, and though her mother isn’t very understanding, her grandmother, her aunt and Marion, all help devise a plan to get Harald to agree to a divorce and let her keep their daughter. It’s female solidarity in action.

The other story-lines are a bit clichéi-sh here: will Marion’s mother (Brigitte Mira) approve of Jochen, will they move in to the mother’s apartment or get their own place. Marion and Jochen fight over the wedding itself. He doesn’t want Irmgard (Irm Hermann) to be maid of honour. She’s too stuck up, certain, disapproves of Marion’s marrying a blue-collar worker who gets her hand dirty. Needless to say, and after many. Tears, Marion gets her way. Irmgard’s haughty condescension, her certainty, and the way her convictions melt with liquor and desire at the wedding itself are the episodes’ high point.

The wedding party takes up the last 30 minutes of the 95 minute episode and is a tour de force of staging, keeping up all the various relationships in play, dramatizing their alterations, and playing off social structures against individual desires and circumstances in ways that are easily legible to the viewer. Another marvellous episode, this one with a superb closing shot.

Irm Hermann in action


José Arroyo

Peter von Kant (François Ozon, France, 2022)


PETER VON KANT is too piddly to get mad at. One can understand the temptation in turning the story of Petra von Kant into a story about Fassbinder. Many of his colleagues have spoken of how when Fassbinder wrote Petra, he was working through some of his feelings on past relationships, particularly that with El Hadi Ben Salem. So Ozon (mis) casts the beary and huggable Denis Menochét as filmmaker Peter von Kant, a genius filmmaker, shit of a person, with a penchant for leather jackets and sniffing coke for breakfast. Khalil Ben Gharbia plays what was formerly the Hannah Schygulla part, here named Amir Ben Salem, after two of Fassbinder’s exes, and so on.

This all brings to mind that infamous Stanley Kauffmann article, ‘Homosexual Drama and Its Diguises’ where, without naming them, he pretty much outed Tennessee Williams, William Inge and Edward Albee, claiming their plays were homosexual relationships masquerading as heterosexual ones; as if Ozon thought he now could make the ‘true’ film that Fassbinder couldn’t. Though surely Ozon, as the Fassbinder fan he is, has seen FOX AND HIS FRIENDS and knows better? Whatever the cause, the film has a soupçon of internalised homophobia about it a well as an implied evocation of the superiority of the present over the past: the film is set in the same year THE BITTER TEARS OF PETRA VON KANT was made.

At the beginning of the film Peter is writing a letter to Romy Schneider about possibly starring in a film cannily like Fassbinder’s THE MARRIAGE OF MARIA BRAUN. Ozon knows his divas and his camp and the character that was Marlene in PETRA, so potent as embodied by Irm Herrman, is now Karl (Stephan Crepon) and sadly reduced to that. For me the only pleasure in PETER VON KANT is Isabelle Adjani’s marvellous turn as Sidonie, movie star and chanteuse, with more a whiff of Gloria Swanson in SUNSET BOULEVARD about her. Every gesture, every tilt of the head is mannered, false and yet also true to the character and very entertaining. She looks beautiful too, always a thrill in itself with movie stars. Hannah Schygulla, who here appears as Peter’s mother, has a different kind of beauty. Unlike Adjani’s she’s let herself age naturally, and brings an earthiness and tenderness to the part that is perhaps the only moment the film succeeds at depth.

As to the rest, the film uses a similar style of framings, mirros, and camera moves over an interior set to Petra’s. It’s over half an hour shorter than Fassbinder’s and much more lightweight. It’s busier too, where Fassbinder used one painting, precisely and meaningfully, Ozon uses four (the Pousin Midas and Bacchus used by Fassbinder and three St. Sebastians: Rubens’, Caraccciolo’s and Toscan’s) but much less purposefully. The dummies here seem merely decorative, a nod to the original. The film is full of allusions to other works, those of Fassbinder of course, and those which the extra textually of the film stars themselves bring, but also visually – Warhol, ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS — aurally — the diva-esque dimension of French chanson — and so on. Why can’t one make different versions of a work like they do in the theatre, asks Ozon? And indeed there is no set rule about it. Certainly Fassbinder and Haynes succeed with their reworkings of ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS. But Ozon doesn’t. I like Ozon’s films very much. They’re often fascinating formal exercises and often fun, but they never quite convince. Peter von Kant is a measure of how frivolous and lightweight a filmmaker Ozon is compared to the greats.

José Arroyo

Thinking Aloud About Film: Beware of a Holy Whore (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, West Germany, 1971)


I’ve been watching all the Fassbinder films I can get my hands on in chronological order and find this the culmination of his early works, a great film about filmmaking to rank alongside Minnelli’s TWO WEEKS IN ANOTHER TOWN (1962) Godard’s CONTEMPT (1963) or Truffaut’s DAY FOR NIGHT (1973). Richard hasn’t seen a Fassbinder film for two decades and finds it harder to get into. We discuss the structure, the marvellous visual and dramatic handling of a very large cast, the gorgeous glossy look –surprising in Fassbinder films to this point — and snake-like long takes (Michael Ballhaus is the cinematographer), the psycho-sexual power dynamics in the narrative and we admire Hannah Schygulla. A main take-away from this conversation with Richard is how Fassbinder’s early work points to a type of cinema and a type of queer representation that the AIDS pandemic brought an end to and of which QUERELLE might be a nodal point. BEWARE OF A HOLY WHORE is ostensibly based on Fassbinder’s experience of filming WHITY (1971) but it is a difficult film to see at this point and that aspect has largely been left out of the discussion.


The podcast may be listened to here:

The podcast can also be listened to on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/show/2zWZ7Egdy6xPCwHPHlOOaT

and on itunes here: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/first-impressions-thinking-aloud-about-film/id1548559546


José Arroyo

The Niklashausen Journey (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Michael Fengler).

Who was Fassbinder making films for in 1970 and what did he hope they’d get out of them? THE NIKLASHAUSEN JOURNEY begins with a group of people circling around the room asking: ‘Who is the revolution for? The people. And who makes the revolution? The people. And who prepares the ground for it? The party. And if there is no party but only a cell of three or four people? Three or four people can form the vanguard of a party. Can three or four people start a revolution? They must try to create the basis for it’. It could be dialogue lifted directly from any student Marxist-Leninist group of the period and almost certainly ideas discussed at the  Anti-Theatre Collective. .

The film is based on a historical account of a failed peasant revolt against the church in the Middle Ages. Michael Köning is Hans Boehm, the charismatic shepherd who claims the virgin speaks through him and directs his actions. This claim to be a voice of the divine gains even more traction when a group of friends ‘direct’ Johanna’s (Hanna Schygulla) appearance as the Virgin herself, with Fassbinder himself giving line readings. They gain celebrity and sponsorship, lots of followers who are willing to engage in violent action, the church retaliates and it all ends in carnage.

Fassbinder was influenced by Brecht and though the film is set in the Middle Ages, it’s a Middle-Ages where Fassbinder himself appears with sunglasses, jeans and a leather jacket, through carriageways and in ‘car cemeteries’. Verfremdung is the intended effect. ‘Plans sequence’ is the technique, with most scenes shot in one long take, whizzed with zooms for emphasis, and with minimal additional sound work. There are songs interspersed throughout (religious & revolutionary, with a rock number thrown in to spice things up). The Black Panthers are mentioned by name, May ‘68 is clearly an inspiration as is the figure of Camilo Torres and Liberation Theology, the cinema of Glauber Rocha (ANTONIO DAS MORTES) and that of Godard (WEEKEND in particular).

I found it hard-going until the very last sequence, where the peasants are betrayed, crucified and burned, all with the very camp Bishop’s blessing. It’s extraordinary directing in large scale, with lots of figures, over a wide space with startling imagery and to great dramatic effect. It’s dazzling, and that that’s where the whole film leads, makes one in turn re-think the beginning, forgive that whole scene where König utters a whole scene as his whole face is rendered invisible (see below, top left) through careless lighting, and ask were the earlier bits amateurish? Was there some grander purpose missed? Can amateurishness be a virtue?

It’s certainly a striking film, one which reminds me of Claude Jutra’s WOW (1970), and feels daring and powerful. Would it matter if Fassbinder made the film only for himself and with state money? I resisted, resisted some more…and then surrendered.


José Arroyo


Rio das Mortes (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, West Germany, 1971)

RIO DAS MORTES is my least favourite Fassbinder film so far, though still with lots to enjoy. Based on an idea from Volker Schlöndorff, it’s a rambly film about an apprentice tile-layer Michael (Michael König),  with a beautiful girlfriend Hannah(Hannah Schygulla),  who dreams of going to Rio das Mortes, which they think is in Peru, leave the grind of life in Munich behind and maybe set-up a farm or find some lost treasure….whatever. Hannah hopes to be married to Michael, he resents her seeming to shut down all his dreams with practicalities. When Michael’s childhood friend Günther (Günther Kaufmann) returns from his military service, they decide to pursue that dream together. Their bonding increases in spite of their many failures and Hannah is left behind. The film would make an interesting case study on the relationship between  homosociality and repressed homosexuality. Michael and Günther both sleep with Hannah but are clearly each other’s primary object of affection. The film is interspersed with feminist agitprop, lectures on underdevelopment, extremely long-take tracking shots of dialogue, and a memorable dance numbers between Schygulla and Fassbinder. There’s pop music of the period (I recognise Elvis and Leonard Cohen), filmic references (Buster Keaton to Lana Turner) and a very beautiful and sensual Hannah Schygulla, wearing a fox stole, with a Dietrich veil, first full of love and lastly contemplating murder. What is it with Lana Turner and gay culture in this moment? The film includes references to the Frank O’Hara poem first, and then as its picked up by Alan Ginsburg; all of that as read by Schygulla and pictured by Fassbinder, a whole prismatic and layered set of queer references. RIO DAS MORTES was made for TV, filmed in 16mm and blown up to 35mm.

Gods of the Plague/ Götter der Pest (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, West Germany, 1970)

A mood piece disguised as a crime film, about futility and anomie set in a marginal underworld of pornography, crime, prostitution, seedy nightclubs, and lowdown cafes and restaurants.

Franz Walsch (Harry Baer) is released from prison but is slowly drawn back to a life of crime. He’s loved by two women (Hanna Schygulla and Margarethe von Trotta). The first is obsessed with and will betray him, the latter he shares with Günther (Günther Kaufman), a criminal colleague, with whom he seems to share an affection that does not seem purely platonic.

This one of a series of nine films Fassbinder would direct between Nov. 69 and Nov. 70: prodigious. And one sees and equally prodigious advancement in Fassbinder’s audio-visual skills; the camera is more mobile; the shots more interestingly framed and composed; there are zooms; action now takes place on different planes.

The queerness is still ever-present (a barman tells a gay couple, ‘you still fooling around with that nonsense?’: they seem the only happy people in the film). The presence of Günther adds a racial dimension to the film’s depiction of class and criminality. I was struck once again by the supermarkets, bursts of light in this otherwise dark film, and particularly notable in the scene where the wounded Günther trawls the dark streets where the shops seem to glow with light and goods, but the doors are closed to people like him. The only way in for people like them is to rob, which is of course also their way out. Those who loved Franz will weep at his funeral, even as that love hurried him on to his death. I liked it very much.

PS: Camp is not the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of Fassbinder, but the two musical numbers here (Schygulla doing Dietrich’s Mein Blonde Babe; and Carla Egerer singing the theme tune from HUSH, HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE just before she’s killed) suggest a re-think might be necessary. It’s camp that doesn’t feel campy, and used more as used as dour acceptance of inevitable nothingness rather than as joyful queer survival

As surprising as the queerness is the male full frontal nudity  in mainstream feature cinema so early on:

Fassbinder’s Cinema continues to be loaded with film references. This one below was one of the most striking:

José Arroyo

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