Rainer Werner Fassbinder George Lellis - Essay

George Lellis

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[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 on society, The Merchant of Four Seasons is diffuse, to say the least, but it is in this diffusion that it achieves most of its power, and its ultimate, paradoxical lucidity.

One cannot look at the film without thinking of Brecht. Events in it are never quite believable as naturalism, and their blunt portrayal, particularly early in the work, mixed with the script's stilted, haltingly wordy dialogue, clearly suggest that distancing is its stylistic aim…. A story which some ten or twenty years ago would have been presented as a subjective, solipsistic study of a suicide here becomes a vision of German life which implies throughout that such an existence must change. The film calls out for a committed response not only because we know that Fassbinder is an engaged film-maker, but also because it allows us no other way to respond. Merchant of Four Seasons treats a psychological subject, but denies the audience all of its conventional psychological responses. (pp. 18-19)

The Merchant of Four Seasons is often a beautiful film to look at, but one never can (as with, let us say, Fellini or Antonioni or even Godard) separate its physical beauty from its moral message. (p. 19)

[The Merchant of Four Seasons works] on two levels, seeking to find the logic in emotions and the emotion in logic, the place of politics in the personality, the personal need for political change. (p. 20)

George Lellis, "Retreat from Romanticism: Two Films from the Seventies," in Film Quarterly (copyright 1975 by The Regents of the University of California; reprinted by permission of the University of California Press), Vol. XXVIII, No. 4, Summer, 1975, pp. 16-20.∗