Tag Archives: Made for TV

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.