Rainer Werner Fassbinder Essay - Critical Essays

Fassbinder, Rainer Werner

Introduction

Rainer Werner Fassbinder 1946–

German director, playwright, and actor.

Fassbinder is considered by many to be the leading director of the German New Wave, a movement marked by a radical break with Germany's past. He advocates rebellion against moral and social complacency; however, he also acknowledges that the rebel is doomed to failure. Instead of psychological character studies, Fassbinder creates fables that state their messages in bold, short strokes. His nihilistic view of Marxist society, along with his precarious balance between the very stylized and sharply realistic, have caused him critical difficulties.

Fassbinder's acting career started in Munich's "Action Theater," an avant-garde theatrical troupe. A year later, Fassbinder founded the Anti-Theater, intended as an alternative to the German theatrical standards he found boring and narrow. Sparse decor and uninflected performance characterize his first film, Love Is Colder than Death. This film also reflects his fascination with love's power. Fassbinder says, "Love is the best, most insidious, most effective instrument of social repression."

The theme of isolation also figures prominently in Fassbinder's work. Fassbinder admits he creates compulsively to avoid his own loneliness. His most autobiographical film, Fox and His Friends, tells the story of a homosexual befriended only for his momentary wealth and soon abandoned. Significantly, Fassbinder plays the lead character.

The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant also intertwines love and politics. Like most of Fassbinder's characters, Petra is an outsider, a victim, and, ultimately, a loser. Other characters are not so much victims of love as of a complacent and monotonous society.

The Marriage of Maria Braun is Fassbinder's first international success. Maria is a victim of both love and society. As one of Fassbinder's strongest heroines, she battles oppression only to meet an ironic and violent death. Unexpected violence, such as Maria's death, appears frequently in Fassbinder's films as both a stylistic and thematic pivot.

Fassbinder acknowledges Hollywood director Douglas Sirk as his strongest influence. He shares Sirk's fondness for the melodramatic, using exaggerated camera angles and mirror techniques. But although Fassbinder creates extended melodramatic situations, his treatment is distant and deadpan. While some critics question the speed with which he makes films, most accept his use of a skeletal frame for his work. Some resent his films, labeling him overrated and undertalented. After over thirty films, Fassbinder remains a paradox: a pessimistic artist who enjoys Hollywood's most sentimental films, and a politically curious intellectual involved in changing the status quo while admitting the futility of his efforts. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 93-96.)

Bruce Berman

[The Merchant of the Four Seasons] is a complex, depressingly moving tale that, when it is not steeped in the deliberateness of its development and representation of emotional and environmental vacuity, sheds much-needed light on the ill-effects of the petit-bourgeois mentality, in this case "mentality" as manifested by Hans Epp and his severely entrenched family. (p. 39)

In terms of method, The Merchant of the Four Seasons, which was made initially for German television, retains a washedout colour and a starkness of imagery (omnipresent crosses, gilt-edged picture-frames on barren walls, etc.), that despite their obvious thematic contributions render the visual terrain not very screen-worthy on one level, although revealing and certainly relevant to the depiction of Fassbinder's vision of a perverted lower-middle class. Stylistically, Fassbinder's work here can be likened to Godard's favourable middle period…. The scene staged at the film's end where, almost predictably, Hans' funeral takes place on a brilliant spring morning with birds singing and sun glowing, struck me as particularly Godardian in its irony. We are reminded that Hans (as we are all to varying degrees), the victim of (political) circumstance and perhaps life itself, can only cease to be a failure when he ceases to be. (pp. 39-40)

Bruce Berman, "Reviews: 'The Merchant of the Four Seasons'," in Take One (copyright © 1972 by Unicorn Publishing Corp.), Vol. 4, No. 4, November-December, 1972, pp. 39-40.

Christian Braad Thomsen

Fassbinder's debut-film, Love is Colder than Death, has often been compared with Jean-Luc Godard's first film, Breathless, because both films introduced an unusually explosive period of production, and because both reveal a very personal reaction to the influence of the American gangster-film. (p. 12)

[Fassbinder's] debut-film was redolent of [a] pictorial emptiness, a feeling that we are starting afresh from the absolute null-point, in an attempt to build something upon the smoking ruins at which Godard arrived and has bequeathed to his contemporaries. Fassbinder tells a gangster-story, but already in the first scene in his first film he demonstrates that his gangster-world is in reality a reflection of the bourgeois world, with which his gangsters only apparently break by their way of living, but from which they never ultimately can free themselves…. Fassbinder repeats this same, absolutely static image-conception in his second film, Katzelmacher, about a Greek immigrant worker whose arrival in a little German provincial town triggers the latent fascist tendencies of the inhabitants. The world of this little provincial town could be interchangeable with that of his gangster-film: it is nearly void of maturity and sentiment, and is wholly static. (pp. 12-13)

Fassbinder's subsequent films deepen and vary the central themes of his first two films: the boredom and emptiness which grope their way to violent expression. Throughout Fassbinder's films, frustrations are resolved by violent action….

Fassbinder's first films will be remembered especially for their pictorial emptiness, for those endless static-camera sequences which purify situations of their "dramatic" content. Taking as his point of departure this emptiness, which is of an aesthetic and contextual nature, Fassbinder gradually discovers a succession of human feelings and social contexts which are more constructive. He additionally discovers a filmic language which slowly allows itself to be built up on the ruins left by Hollywood. (p. 13)

Warning lies mid-way in Fassbinder's work, and it is a turning-point. It is Fassbinder's most obviously autobiographical film, since it deals with the making of a film and gives a nonidealized portrait of Fassbinder and of his permanent crew of actors and co-workers…. Warning deals with the price they have to pay for functioning as a group, and with the tensions which, time and again, threaten to scatter them…. (pp. 13-14)

The director's dream of delegating the film's creation to all is just an excuse for his self-pitying plain, that it is always he who has to do it all. In reality, none of the...

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Tony Rayns

Like Rainer Werner Fassbinder's other recent imitations of life, Fear Eats the Soul [Angst essen Seele auf] achieves a remarkable balance between stylisation and realism….

The movie is an expansion/revision of a story told by a minor character in Fassbinder's own Der amerikanische Soldat [The American Soldier] (1970), and also a remake/revision of Douglas Sirk's All That Heaven Allows (1955). Its plot is an extraordinary mesh of low-key melodrama and social criticism….

Angst essen Seele auf begins like a fairy-tale: as in a dream, Emmi is lured into the Moroccan bar by the Arab music on its juke-box, and invited to dance for what is evidently the first time in many years. Stage by stage, everything that follows is hilariously—and agonisingly—predictable, Fassbinder plays on audience expectations so thoroughly that his exposition astonishes by its very exhaustiveness. The types of racial fear and prejudice are catalogued succinctly….

Fassbinder circumscribes the movie's area of interest by fading out on anything irrelevant to his direct concerns (the first night that the couple share; their turning-point holiday). He films his active characters in neutral mid-shots, never lending disproportionate weight to one or another in the compositions, and the legions of anonymous onlookers who provide the movie's moral 'context' in static, posed tableaux…. The overall approach invites comparison with other European critiques of American genres …; but Fassbinder is clearly as interested in vindicating Sirk as he is in using a rhetorical style to make his unequivocal statements on film. This 'politicised weepie' realises both aims with an assurance of a kind almost vanished from narrative cinema.

Tony Rayns, "Film Reviews: 'Fear Eats the Soul'," in Sight and Sound (copyright © 1974 by The British Film Institute), Vol. 43, No. 4, Autumn, 1974, p. 245.

Richard Combs

On the face of it, the world of Petra von Kant—a supremely stylised region where the rules of play, in decor as in passion, are dictated by the high-fashion, high-camp predilections of its decadent queen—shares very little with the wry social comedy of Fear Eats the Soul…. But there is an odd complementary quality about the two films, the suggestion of a mirror reflection in the way the areas of stylisation are inverted, and a clearly continuing line in the way the form and mannerisms of Hollywood melodrama are worked into the texts. Where Fear Eats the Soul tells, broadly, a mundane tale of love crushed by social prejudice and repression, and lends to the affair between the ageing char and...

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George Lellis

[The Merchant of Four Seasons's] biggest coup is that our feelings for the man are never really for him personally—he is ugly and unsympathetic throughout. The film remains outside of him, something that gives us, in the final analysis, more of a portrait of the world that made him than one of the man himself. And it is a cold, unfeeling world. That Hans Epp is fundamentally unloved is established from the picture's first frame, when he comes home from the Foreign Legion and his mother tells him it's too bad all the good ones die in wars and those like him remain; but the rest of the work portrays a society in which all potentially meaningful things are ritualized into mechanism…. As an attack...

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Tony Rayns

The most striking difference between [The Merchant of Four Seasons] and earlier Fassbinder movies is the immense gain in simplicity and clarity, qualities about which there is nothing deceptive. As the chronicle of a man whose dreams and aspirations are systematically denied him by his petit bourgeois environment, Merchant could hardly be more straightforward: its linear narrative … is a step-by-loaded-step catalogue of the betrayals and humiliations that Hans suffers, while occasional fragmentary, dream-like flashbacks serve to expose the roots of his oppression. The other main change is the nature of the mise en scène; the Godardian unpredictability and genre permutations of the earlier films...

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Jonathan Rosenbaum

[Fassbinder] has been devoted to social reform and the perpetuation (through updating) of the dominant codes of narrative cinema. Far from being "radical" or "subversive", as has often been claimed, his cinema is liberal in the best and most hallowed sense of the word…. In Faustrecht der Freiheit [Fox]—working with narrative elements traceable back to [Erich von] Stroheim and von Sternberg as well as Sirk—he is relating a fable of class exploitation within a homosexual milieu that is rather obvious and predictable in overall design, but clever and nuanced in many of its individual details. The cultural snobbery of Eugen, his parents and his friends is underlined far past the point of necessity or...

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Penelope Gilliatt

["The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant"] is a lucid, beautiful work of innovation which hides its fondness for its characters under a cloak of august formalism. One remembers at the end that the dedication reads, "A case history of one who here became Marlene." Marlene is an apparently minor character who never speaks—of the six women in the film, she is the mute—but the story, in recall, is about the effect of its events on her sensibility. It is typical of the ricochet movement of Fassbinder's films that at the time we should regard her only as a witness. (p. 264)

There are fibre-glass figures and costume drawings everywhere in the working part of the room. We are watching a woman who is almost...

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Stanley Kauffmann

[The] trouble with [The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant] is that it equates methods with powers. One pitfall in latterday filmmaking is the gross overestimate of certain filmic procedures as symbology. Fassbinder thinks he can make a film of his stage play by thickly impasting some of those procedures. The confinement to one room, the slow-moving camera are assumed to create depth—partly on the ground that they contravene conventional commercial procedures. To this, Fassbinder adds some obviously arty Franco-German apparatus: the arbitrarily silent "slave," a lot of unclothed female dressmaker's dummies, a frontally naked male in a huge painting (the only male in the film). All this is facile, and it's...

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Paul Thomas

Rainer Werner Fassbinder is a man who knows how to hate. More to the point—but very much connected with it—Fassbinder's films may have extended the language and method of film more than those of any young film-maker of his generation. (p. 2)

Melodramatic elements abound in Fassbinder's films. Why should Ali be stricken with the "immigrant's disease" at the end of Fear Eats the Soul just as Emmy so movingly forgives and accepts him? Why does Wildwechsel … need the coup de grâce of Hanni's being told by the gynecologist … that her baby was born dead and deformed? It's arguable that the remarkable thing is the extent to which. Fassbinder gets away with hitting home in this...

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Thomas Elsaesser

At no point during his career has Fassbinder renounced the autobiographical element in his films. His self-criticism does not affect the material but rather the manner of its presentation. The central experience—one might go so far as to call it the trauma that motivates his productivity—is emotional exploitation. His films are fictionalised, dramatised, occasionally didactic versions of what it means to live within power structures and dependencies that are all but completely internalised, and as such apparently removed from any possibility of change or development.

Repetition, reiteration therefore has a particularly important function in his work, on the thematic as well as the formal level....

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Vincent Kling

[Fassbinder's characters] start at a point of freedom from external constraints far beyond any [Sirk's] characters could have imagined, but they are every bit as miserable. They almost always have more than enough money to do whatever they want or to travel wherever they please; they often have jobs that they quite enjoy; they live in a society that does not care about their political convictions, religious beliefs or sexual orientations. Even so, they are no more free than the title character of Effi Briest, who is driven to her death by the strict codes of militaristic, imperialistic, censorious Prussian upper-class society at the end of the nineteenth century. Thinking about the implications of Fassbinder's...

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John Simon

[Fassbinder] turns out movies the way other people shed dandruff, and is generally considered the new Godard or, at the very least, the Wunderkind of the German cinema. The main influences on him would seem to be Brecht and Warhol, the unendurably static Jean-Marie Straub and the souped-up second-rate American action directors, which shows that, if nothing else, he is catholic to the point of self-contradiction….

An aura of arrogance is everywhere, as if Fassbinder were saying, "I can slap movies together as fast and loose as I wish because I am a Wunderkind." The procedure, I am afraid, makes him into a bit of Blunderkind. He turns out, as I see it, two kinds of movies: bad...

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Penelope Gilliatt

["Mother Küsters Goes to Heaven"] is like Brecht's plays and poems in declining open sensibility, but all the same its coinage is care for people, with a guttersnipe wit about the self-deceptions that slaughter intent…. The film has a melodramatic plot, but it is no melodrama. Any work of fiction is beyond melodrama when its logic is clear and large enough. The picture tells us that rhetoric is no escape; that a guru-disciple relationship between sexes or classes is damned; that primitivism of expression—losing one's mind, having a tantrum, using emotional bribery—makes savages of us all; that, since no film artist would hand you the keys to character, the only thing to watch is outward conduct. Mother Küsters...

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Vincent Canby

[The characters in "Katzelmacher" are lower middle-class layabouts who] sit on—or lean against—the railing outside a Munich apartment house in various positions of boredom. They bicker. They brood. Mostly they just stare into space, lined up all in a row like the crows in Hitchcock's "The Birds."…

[The] characters, with the possible exception of Jorgos …, who never says much, are either slobs or dimwitted, and though they are totally self-absorbed and given to parroting clichés, they are sometimes capable of the unexpected gesture as when Marie decides to leave Erich for Jorgos….

The static camera, the exaggerated mannerisms of the actors, the jump-cuts, the repeated...

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Vincent Canby

Although "Gods of the Plague" is described as a sequel to "Love Is Colder Than Death,"… it makes an appropriate companion piece to "The American Soldier," a comically dead-panned contemplation of American gangster films of the 30's and 40's. Where "The American Soldier" comes close to parody, though, "Gods of the Plague" is absolutely straight, which is not to say that it's realistic or that its narrative is important for itself….

"Gods of the Plague" is the quintessential American gangster film if the quintessential American gangster film had been adapted and updated to accommodate a bunch of small-time Munich hoods for whom the holdup of a rather ordinary suburban supermarket is "the big job."...

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Stanley Kauffmann

[Effi Briest] is beautiful. It renders [Theodor Fontane's] book as fully and texturally as could be possible in 140 minutes, and it's a work in and of itself, intrinsically cinematic. What's more, it shows that Fassbinder is probably going to keep astonishing us….

Effi Briest doesn't have the tragic dimensions of Madame Bovary or of Kate Chopin's The Awakening because Effi is much more a victim than a rebel, but her extramarital affair is fated from the start and so is her sorry finish….

The fadeouts all through the picture constitute a visual theme. Every fade is to white, not black—a "burn to white," as the trade more properly puts it. These...

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Penelope Gilliatt

As with most of Fassbinder's films, [in "Effi Briest" the concern] is in the sophistry of the powerful; it is kin to his "Chinese Roulette," a mysterious comedy of calculated mannerisms. (p. 278)

Fassbinder thinks a great deal about oppressed groups, including women. "Effi Briest" is his masterpiece…. [His Effi] is the victim of an education that makes girls beguiling and frivolous objects, and so leads inevitably to a whim on the part of society to inhibit them with taboos. Effi is not only intimidated by the ghost but also fearful of committing crimes against bourgeois society, and terrorized by the possibility of appearing to the respectable to be a tart…. Life is lived by a system of fear and...

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Barbara Leaming

In the past Fassbinder's films have often been concerned with isolated people—with the outsider. In Fear of Fear, once again the central figure is set apart—she is a woman whose world is largely a world of family, a family that perceives her not only as an outsider, an intruder, but more importantly as someone "abnormal." For them, there is no question of what it is which constitutes the norm, for her sister-in-law explicitly and flatly states, "We are normal." They are the ones certainly who hold power; they are then the ones who determine the norm. Yet it is not even this outsider status within her husband's family which seems to mark the critical point in Margot's passage towards madness. There is a far...

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Janet Maslin

If you have any doubt that there's such a thing as being too prolific, by all means go see Rainer Werner Fassbinder's "Satan's Brew." Mr. Fassbinder attempting physical, almost slapstick comedy, is Mr. Fassbinder at his least funny or enlightening; and the film, a kind of "Father Knows Best" on acid, showcases most of the director's worst qualities without leaving room for his best. Made in Germany early last year, this is an ice-cold work, and a stubborn and difficult one. The meager rewards it delivers are no match for the enormous energy it demands. (pp. 90-1)

Mr. Fassbinder can be both ironic and provocative when, as in "Mother Kusters Goes To Heaven," his only successful comedy, he gently...

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Penelope Gilliatt

["Satan's Brew"] is a deliberate slap in the face…. [Walter Kranz] operates from the same feckless, uninhibited, unscrupulous, and unpredictable position that Fassbinder does in hurling this movie at us. The film creates an irritable weather all its own. People behave like cross morons, pretend to less intelligence than they actually have, move with the gestures of wooden puppets on tangled strings. (p. 62)

Fassbinder has made this shock-the-middlebrow picture go at a rattling pace, piling on evil comic details to see how much we will take…. Fassbinder forever pits words against physical expressiveness in this film, and throws sense out of joint…. Fassbinder has given himself the license to go...

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áNdrew Sarris

ÁNDREW SARRIS

[Satan's Brew] strikes me as a minor setback in [Fassbinder's] career. While it does not make me reconsider my previous appraisals, it does suggest certain limitations to his talent. What he has attempted on this occasion is a form of savage screwball comedy, which descends irrationally and intentionally into depravity and disgust….

Fassbinder quotes Artaud as his guide, but one is reminded instead of the Cocteau of Les Enfants Terribles and the Chabrol-Gegauff of Les Cousins. Unfortunately, Fassbinder is unable to furnish any behavioral conviction to his players, and, as if to admit this deficiency, he allows his plot to fizzle out in a fit...

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Tom Allen

[Although Why Does Herr R. Run Amok?] was made for German television, it is not on a par even with the Visions series on American Public Broadcasting, which gives young playwrights and filmmakers a forum. Fassbinder's exercise is more the equivalent of a loft production or an unpublished novel in the trunk. As I see Fassbinder's career in a spotty perspective, the film predates even his first tentative sparring with the aesthetic options of cinema, his so-called Sirkian conversion….

[The film is] a case history of banality with each entry contributing to the construct of a seemingly complacent architectural draftsman. The everyday abrasions from his wife, son, boss, and neighbors are...

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Robert Hatch

Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? is a clinical exercise designed to test how long a man can be expected to endure an existence that is, without relief, stale, flat and unprofitable. Herr R. is boring; worse than that, he suffers the capacity to be bored….

On occasion, Herr R. thrusts feebly against the bladder of narcotic misery within which he is suspended…. But there is no heat to sustain these sparks of animation; they expire in sighs and silences. And so one day, when a neighbor is running on about her discovery of the techniques and apparel of skiing, the almost repellently soft and undemanding Herr R. picks up a lethally heavy candlestick. The feeling one gets from this denouement can...

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Jill Forbes

Effi Briest is a film of velleity and distance because it is a portrait of the artist much more than the portrayal of a society. Whatever the apparent moral differences between them, all characters share a simultaneous acceptance of a perfectly coherent system of values, and a knowledge that this system cannot account for all their desires and emotions—even von Instetten who fights a duel because he must, not because he needs to, while openly avowing his love for his wife…. What Fassbinder has filmed is the author at work rather than the work itself: using a rigid pattern of sequences introduced by titles which are quotations from [the book's author, Theodor] Fontane and ending on fades to white whose...

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Jan Dawson

[Although the ingredients of Fassbinder's Sixties gangster films are still much in evidence,] The American Soldier comes closer than any of Fassbinder's previous films to articulate the method behind its own coherent madness and to spelling out the moral, or at any rate the moral philosophy, behind its characters' seemingly amoral actions…. Although on the surface a long way from the Romantic tradition, Fassbinder's American Soldier in fact harks back to that tradition by depicting an inescapable link between love and death. Its moments of greatest tenderness and compassion all involve corpses…. It's as if the characters can only express the tenderness they feel when 'the other' has lost his...

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Jan Dawson

More than any other of Fassbinder's early films noirs, Gods of the Plague is primarily a mood piece, its narrative impressionistically sketched and expressionistically recorded. Each scene achieves a near-absolute existential immediacy, and the causal connections between them, only thinly suggested (expository dialogue, even more than the film's other conversations, is minimal and monosyllabic), remain the subject of speculative reconstruction rather than of any self-evident logic. The relationships between the characters themselves similarly elude definition, projection, retrospection and permanence…. Though the country-outing sequence, with its freewheeling aerial shots of the car moving down empty...

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Richard Combs

Since Fassbinder's message about oppression, and its social and emotional forms, was intended for a mass audience and not a coterie of cinephiles, his self-ordained task was to 'create' that audience by recreating the communal style of the greatest popular cinema in history. Although Chinese Roulette (1976) still relates to that tradition—it is a melodramatic chamber piece, in which the romantic triangles of four haut bourgeois characters tensely overlap—it pointedly introduces 'foreign' elements into Fassbinder's usual stock company of players, and its political references (the Nazi past, contemporary political terrorism) supply not so much a message as teasing clues to the games its people play....

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John L. Fell

Despair invents an act of demented disassociation with which the audience cannot itself become complicitly engaged because the narrative mode is not expressionistic. Instead, it is overlaid by self-reflexive irony upon irony. The book is written as a memoir-diary: "the lowest form of literature," its author says. Rereading, the writer discovers his fatal mistake in commission of the perfect crime.

Nabokov's plot intact, [Tom] Stoppard and Fassbinder have enlarged the döppelgänger motif (including plays on old movie scenes), politicized time and place, and exteriorized Hermann's aberrations by means of fantasized, conjectural intrusions.

Doubling, of course, here advances...

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Jan Dawson

[The Third Generation is Fassbinder's] most violently outspoken film yet, and incidentally the first from Germany … to represent fictional terrorists on the screen. Expanding into a high-camp melodrama the idea of collective responsibility underlying his Germany in Autumn episode, Fassbinder disregards the politically rigidified idea of terrorists as either demons or martyrs; and instead locates the colourful members of his terrorist cell … at the centre of a complex, wheels-within-wheels social machine governed only by the laws of greed, profit, cross and double-cross….

[In] Fassbinder's angry, and only superficially cynical, apocalyptic vision, there are no right or left, no...

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Tom Noonan

[Only] someone like Fassbinder, a man who solemnly proclaimed a film with an all-woman cast "strictly autobiographical" could make The Marriage of Maria Braun.

Maria builds her life around her love for Hermann, in spite of their separation. Regardless of whether or not her love is "real," it is the passion that sustains her. It is also the carrot that Fassbinder dangles before Maria as he enmeshes her in a web of complications. As the reality of a reunion with her husband is repeatedly denied, Maria's love becomes an abstraction that retreats further and further into fantasy. (pp. 40-1)

Control is the key to Maria. She is always completely in command. But she can't have the...

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Dan Isaac

The Marriage of Maria Braun must be recognized … as a powerful and mordant study of post-war Germany, a portrayal very much in the mood and style of Bertolt Brecht. Concerned with the "economic miracle," as the Germans themselves like to call it, Fassbinder treats a subject that other German filmmakers have studiously avoided.

"Eine schlechte Zeit für Gefuhle"—"a bad time for feelings"—says one character early on, which pretty much sums up the pervasive mood of Fassbinder's icy approach to the miracle of German recovery…. But in The Marriage of Maria Braun Fassbinder has finally found the right subject; the result is a near masterpiece. The marriage referred to in the...

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Robert Hatch

The atmosphere of In a Year of Thirteen Moons is dark, claustrophobic, filmed in hot colors, often at bizarre, cubist angles and heavy with Weltschmerz. Time and again it pauses for long, philosophical contemplation of the distastefulness of being and the seduction of ending—maunderings of the sort I thought even the Germans had renounced in our time….

Fassbinder mistrusts the social system as profoundly as he despairs of human relationships. He expresses this most explicitly through the history of Saitz, who had risen from black-market trickster to whoremaster to real estate millionaire and whom Elvira runs to earth in one of his vast but empty high-rises, locked in with a few...

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Raymond Durgnat

We're tempted to say that Fassbinder is a better playwright than film director. But we can't quite convince ourselves that he began with some acute sense of how human beings oppress and twist one another and themselves, and that he lost it on film through believing that Douglas Sirk … was a Marxist pioneer of alienation effect by exaggeration. We see these movies as soft-edge, soft-core, bourgeois self-criticism….

On all his actors Fassbinder's carefully formalized visuals impose a strange style which certainly hits the jackpot of a fashionable aesthetic. Following an almost mechanical alternation of passion and blankness (limp deadpan, tears, limp deadpan), Fassbinder succeeds only too well in...

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Vincent Canby

There no longer can be any doubt about it: Rainer Werner Fassbinder is the most dazzling, talented, provocative, original, puzzling, prolific and exhilarating film maker of his generation….

Mr. Fassbinder has demonstrated that he is quite capable of adapting his cinematic vision to fit the works of others …, but it's his original screenplays that give the true measure of this great, unpredictable talent. He makes movies the way other, lesser directors talk about them—easily, quickly and precisely. When he shoots a film, he is speculating about the subject as well as about the craft of film making, examining both as he goes along, freely, without being bound to arrive at some preset destination....

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Richard Combs

The mood of The Third Generation, one might assume, is rampaging cynicism. The film looks in two directions, at the modern capitalist state of West Germany and at the terrorist radicals who bedevil it, and seems to pronounce a curse on both their houses. Such a feat is possible, however, not because the film is two-faced but because the situation it describes is so complex….

In cut and dried terms, this is the message of Fassbinder's latest film. But it does not account for some of its most curious features, not least of which is that it is more emotionally than politically painful. Although some historical long view of the German experience is implied, the film actually works as a...

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