Tag Archives: Irm Hermann

FEAR OF FEAR/ ANGST VON DER ANGST (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, West Germany, 1975)

FEAR OF FEAR is a made-for-tv movie, a ‘woman’s’ film, a chamber piece in which a small set of characters and their inter-relationships are used to evoke a world, a social setting, a condition and an individual’s relationship to that world. As the film begins, Margot (Margit Cartensen), a middle-class housewife, beautiful and competent, happily married to an understanding husband (Ulric Faulhaber), is expecting her second child and understandably anxious. That anxiety turns to full-blown depression once the baby is born. Her in-laws live upstairs and whilst sometimes a help with baby-sitting, her mother in law (Brigitte Mira) criticises her housekeeping, her sister in law (Irm Hermann) is jealous and aspish, and her brother-in-law (Armin Meier), whilst kind and supportive, might also have sexual designs on her. The in-laws here are basically the Küsters but with their worst aspects highlighted and brought into focus: narrow-minded, petty, judgmental; an agent of social control; and heaven protect those that deviate from the narrow constraints they hold to be proper.

Margot is anxious and afraid, tired, and in such a deep funk she thinks she’s going mad. Her husband works during the day; studies at night; and though sympathetic to her, is not quite there for her or the children. Fassbinder shows us Margot, in frames within frames, hemmed in by the doorways of her ugly apartment, filmed at an angle to show her disassociation from her environment. There are lots of shots of her looking at mirrors where she questions the person she sees. Who is she? Who is she to her self? What is her ‘self’? Her inner state is often indicated in point-of-view shots where what she’s seeing is indicated by a blurred, wavy image as if she’s not quite there, and can no longer be objective about what’s out there either. The loss of her grip on reality is often signalled by an electric version of the type of score typical for melodrama.


Margot’s husband is concerned and they go to a doctor, who prescribes Valium, which helps, but soon she’s hooked on it and has to supplement the Valium with alcohol. Her sister-in-law catches her drinking in the middle of the day (the slattern!);, her mother in-law finds her dressed up with full on make-up in the daytime (it makes her feel better); her brother-in-law sees her in the swimming pool doing frenzied laps (what’s wrong with her?) and soon the in-law are checking on her constantly: has she fed the children, does she cook, does she need aspirin?: she’s a bad wife and mother who always though she was superior to everyone else. Is Margot mad? Or is this what trying to live up to impossible social norms that make no space for the wishes and dreams of women like Margot do to women like Margot?


Soon Margot is a drug-addict and a drunk, whoring herself out to the neighbourhood pharmacist (Adrian Hoven) for Valium. One afternoon, she tells him she wants to leave her family to be with him and he basically tells her she’s wonderful but that’s not an option. When she gets home, she slices a wrist; not to commit suicide, there’s her children, whom she loves. But just to feel something.


Kurt Raabe appears as Mr. Bauer, with all the charisma and creepiness of Peter Lorre, as a neighbour; her doppleganger – he’s just come out of an institution —  or her worst fear? He’s the only one who recognises what she’s going through. But every encounter with him on the street brings trauma. At the end of the film, when Margot has gone to a sanatorium, received help, and is back to normal, she looks out her window and sees that Mr. Bauer is in a coffin and hasn’t made it, the image begins to blurr and get wavey again. Is this a spark to regression? It’s ambivalent.


A tight, well-made film, like an un-glossy Sirk, that still feels relevant and lingers in the mind.

José Arroyo


EIGHT HOURS DON’T MAKE A DAY: EPISODE FIVE – IRMGARD UND ROLF (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, West Germany, 1973)




Like Jane Fonda with 9 TO 5 (Colin Higgins, 1980),  Fassbinder ostensibly researched EIGHT HOURS DON’T MAKE A DAY by visiting factories, talking to workers and getting advice from trade unions. He then went on to write the scripts for the eight-part series, sent them to trade unionists for feedback and incorporated the feedback into the final scripts. I’m not too clear on when Westdeutscher Rundfunk decided not to go ahead with the last three episodes. Fassbinder had been paid, the actors had signed contracts, the show was a ratings and popular success. It had also been very controversial in the press. When producer Peter Märthesheimer approached Fassbinder about the project, he described the goal as the ‘occupation of a bourgeois genre.’  Perhaps they had succeeded too well, and Mäthesheimer didn’t want to test an already volatile press on what further, ostensibly bleaker episodes might spark. The fallout of the Munich Olympics Massacre of ‘72 was still being processed in the culture as this show was being released.

The final episode takes place mainly at work. The factory is moving. The workers find out before they’re consulted. It will constitute a major disruption to their lives, adding two hours to a daily commute for some, or incurring costs by requiring them to buy transport they hadn’t previously needed. Newlyweds Jochen (Gottfried John) and Marion (Hannah Schygulla) have only just signed a five-year lease on a flat. What to do? Marion, always the voice of reason and change in this series, suggests they draw up a list of demands and present them to the bosses. The biggest demand is that workers organise their work themselves. Surprisingly, the bosses accept. They set the hours it would normally take to do the job, and if the workers do the job earlier the money saved will be split half-half between workers and bosses. This they do. Should they divide the money equally or according to pay grade? An occasion to bring up all the racist tensions at the factory. But the workers agree to that as well…. And then the ball droops. Why should the bosses get any of the money? Well because they own the means of production.

The organisation, resistance and work at the factory is interspersed with housing problems (Jochen and Marion end up exchanging flats with Jochen’s parents), a misunderstanding when Manfred (Wolfgang Zerlett), madly in love with Monika (Renate Roland) , thinks she’s involved with someone else when in fact she’s being swindled by a bourgeois speculator, something the grandmother quickly, and humorously, sets to right, and Irm’s (Irm Hermann) developing relationship with Rolf(Rudolf Waldemar Brem) . In ‘The Utopian Channel’ a lovely essay that accompanies the Criterion blu-ray, Marion Weigel writes, ‘As an American in 2018, I find it impossible to watch EIGHT HOURS DON’T MAKE A DAY without longing for more stories like, for us, here and now.’ I know what she means.

José Arroyo




After PIONEERS IN INGOLSTADT Fassbinder took an eight-month break, saw Sirk’s 50s melodramas (ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS, WRITTEN ON THE WIND, IMITATION OF LIFE, etc) and was so excited by what he saw that he travelled to Switzerland to meet with Sirk personally and discuss his work.

The effects are evident in THE MERCHANT OF THE FOUR SEASONS, Fassbinder’s first popular box-office success. Though the film was still shot very quickly (11 days), one can see signature Sirkian compositions in his use of frames within frames created by doorways, arches, and staircases; or in his expressive use of mirrors to communicate tensions in what is being shown.

For the first time (that I at least can detect), he also uses colour deliberately and expressively, in relation to character and then changing situations. It’s a colour coding of drama. Thus, for example, Hans (Hans Hirschmūller)is often shown in various shades of blue, that meld best into the table and background of the tavern where he is most at home. His wife Irmgard (Irm Hermann) is shown in or next to earthy reddish browns, which often match the curtains of her kitchen. As Hans loses his place in his world to Harry (Klaus Löwitzch), his old legion friend, Hans begins to be associated with blue as Hans begins to be associated in the white and black of the funeral that awaits him. It’s a 1950s big studio style of expressive colour coding, brilliantly deployed here.




THE MERCHANT OF THE FOUR SEASONS is that story of an ordinary man in 1950s Munich, Hans Epp (Hans Hirschmūller), thwarted at every turn. He wanted to go to a trade school and work with his hands but his mother had loftier ambitions and denied him. He got a job as a policeman but lost it when caught with a prostitute trading sex for favours. He went to the foreign legion only to be caught and tortured, a turn-on to his comrades, who waited much too long to rescue him in order to watch. When he returns from the foreign legion, which we’re shown in the very first scene, his mother tells him: ‘It’s always the same. The good die young and people like you come back….Once a no-good, always a no-good!’ Even the love of his life, who loves him back, reduces him to a bit on the side as her family has forbidden her to marry a fruit peddler, which is how he earns his living as the film begins.

Hans’ life is such a misery that he drinks himself into a stupor,  and then takes his failures out on his wife, physically, and in front of the daughter. This leads to a threat of divorce, which precipitates a heart attack and changes in his life. After the first 30 minutes or so, it’s his wife who takes care of the family and the business, who gains in strength, power and say. There’s a lovely moment (see above) after Hans’ heart-attack where we see her coming out of the hospital, her life in ruins, pictured in front of a wedding dress in a department store, walking past the dream living room it now seems she’ll never have, and propositioned as a prostitute by a man driving through the dark streets. It’s a heart-breaking moment. But as soon as she begins to take charge, we begin to see how easily replaceable Hans is. He’s replaced in his job by Anzell (Karl Scheydt) a new employee who happens to have had a sexual adventure with his wife whilst he was in hospital, and highlighted by both of them being shot peddling their fruit in the same way (from below as they turn and look up at the apartments below).

Anzell also replaces Hans in his bed;


and then Harry will replace Hans as head of the table, the family and as father:


Hans’s whole life will be taken over by Harry:


Part of the reason why the film is so great is because it’s so spare yet so complex and rich. Everyone has their reasons in the film, everyone is understandable if not necessarily nice. Hans’ mother is bringing up her children alone and sees Hans, her sole male child, as having particular obligations he is not fulfilling. His wife has to keep her child protected, a roof over their head and income rolling in. Irmgard is at least as interesting a character as Hans and probably even more so. Structurally, flashbacks add layers of understanding and complexity to the minimal narrative so that we see all those aspects of class, gender, adding socio-economic relations adding dimensions to the narrative. Fassbinder brings out the sexual power dynamics in a more vivid manner than most. And colour and composition are used to bring out a superbly expressive use of the visual in a way that I had yet to see in Fassbinder’s work. There is no attempt (or perhaps budget) to visually periodise the film so that it creates a peculiar sense of time and history in the film, so that the film’s fifties does not quite convince as then but is yet somehow also now, the then in the now. It’s a truly great film.

José Arroyo