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: