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October 3 - 27 2003

Fassbinder!

In collaboration with the Goethe Institut, Boston, and the Department of German at Harvard, the HFA presents a tribute to the late, great enfant terrible of the New German Cinema, Rainer Werner Fassbinder. A product of the experimental theater in postwar Germany, Fassbinder grafted his Brechtian penchants onto a rich, visual cinematic canvas that embraced aspects of the conventional Hollywood genre film (gangster movies, melodramas) and piercing social critique, creating a highly unique body of work that remains unrivaled in its political and emotional resonance. The retrospective features the films that established his name internationally as well as rarely screened work he produced for German television. It offers an opportunity to survey not only the range of the director’s prolific output—which included 44 film and television productions from the late 1960s until his untimely death, in 1982, at age 37—but his multiple talents as a writer, actor, and director. The series is prefaced by a new documentary that explores Fassbinder’s enduring legacy, twenty years after his death.


October 3 (Friday) 7 pm - Actor Ulli Lommel in Person

Fassbinder in Hollywood

Directed by Robert Fischer
USA/Germany, 2002, color, 57 min.
With Ulli Lommel, Hanna Schygulla, Wim Wenders
German and English with English subtitles

What would happen if Fassbinder had come to Hollywood to make films? Through this engaging portrait of the German émigré film community in contemporary Hollywood, Robert Fischer seeks the answer to that question as he searches for insights into the art of the departed master of New German Cinema. Intercut with excerpts from the director’s key works are incisive interviews with actors Ulli Lommel and Hanna Schygulla, director Wim Wenders, and cinematographer Michael Ballhaus.

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October 3 (Friday) 9 pm
October 5 (Sunday) 9 pm

Love is Colder than Death (Liebe ist kälter als der Tod)

Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
West Germany, 1969, b/w, 88 min.
With Ulli Lommel, Hanna Schygulla, Katrin Schaake
German with English subtitles

In the director’s first feature film, a small-time pimp (Fassbinder) in love with a prostitute (his recurring leading lady Schygulla) resists the efforts of a Berlin crime syndicate to recruit him and opts for a more independent life of crime. This experimental, mannerist take on the American gangster film reflects the director’s awareness of the existential crime studies of Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Melville as it examines the social order through the lens of society’s underbelly. “What is important to me is that those who see this film call into question their most deeply private feelings,” he mused. “That is more political, or more politically aggressive, I find, than showing the police as the prime oppressor.”

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October 4 (Saturday) 7 pm
October 8 (Wednesday) 9 pm

The American Soldier (Der amerikanische Soldat)

Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
West Germany, 1970, b/w, 80 min.
With Karl Scheydt, Elga Sorbas, Margarethe von Trotta
German with English

A full-scale, mood-thick homage to the world of Humphrey Bogart and great American action directors like Raoul Walsh and Sam Fuller, Fassbinder’s film centers on a hired gunman named Ricky, a charismatic figure in a rakish hat and white suit. Recently returned from a Vietnamized America, Ricky carries out the murders he has been assigned with a startling lack of interest and emotion, all the while trying to reconnect with his old neighborhood and his family. The amazing final shoot-out is probably the most startling of Fassbinder’s patented off-beat endings.

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October 4 (Saturday) at 9 pm

Despair

Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
West Germany/France, 1977, color, 119 min.
With Dirk Bogarde, Andréa Ferréol, Klaus Löwitsch
German with English subtitles

 

Based on the novel by Vladimir Nabokov and adapted to the screen by playwright Tom Stoppard, Despair, set in Berlin of the early 1930s, focuses on the odd character of Hermann Hermann (Bogarde), the Russian-émigré owner of a small chocolate factory. Plagued by ennui and an unfaithful wife, Hermann concocts a plan to switch identities with a struggling artist whom he believes, quite erroneously, is his double. A measured study of madness in a time of madness, Despair makes brilliant use of mirrored and glassed interiors and wicked allusions to the historical period.

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October 6 (Monday) 9 pm

The Third Generation (Die dritte Generation)

Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
West Germany, 1969, color, 111 min.
With Hanna Schygulla, Bulle Ogier, Volker Spengler
German with English subtitles

“Terrorism is an invention of capitalism to better protect its capital,” Fassbinder once declared. That theory is put to the test in this story of a group of bourgeois compatriots who, mostly out of boredom and in search of kicks, opts for terrorism and ends up being used by a shady industrialist in the process. According to Fassbinder, the third generation of terrorists differed from its forebears of May ‘68 and Baader-Meinhof in its lack of coherent political ideas or beliefs. The Third Generation prompted Vincent Canby to dub Fassbinder “the most dazzling, talented, provocative, original, puzzling, prolific, and exhilarating filmmaker of his generation.” Eddie Constantine (the quintessential screen gangster) plays the role of the manipulative businessman.

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October 10 (Friday) 7 pm
October 15 (Wednesday) 9 pm

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (Angst essen Seele auf)

Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
West Germany, 1973, color, 94 min.
With Brigitte Mira, El Hedi ben Salem, Barbara Valentin
German with English subtitles

This is melodrama with a capital M, and a beautiful homage to the great German-American director Douglas Sirk—particularly to his film All That Heaven Allows and its attendant social commentary. The story had already been foreshadowed in Fassbinder’s The American Soldier, in which a maid tells the sad story that transpires here: of an older German woman who meets and marries a Moroccan guest worker twenty years her junior. Fassbinder brilliantly articulates class and sexual politics by showing how once the prejudices surrounding the controversial couple begin to lessen, their relationship starts to unravel. His famous interior long shots are perfectly integrated and the colors masterfully contrasted with the grim reality they adorn.

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October 10 (Friday) 9 pm
October 13 (Monday) 7 pm

The Merchant of Four Seasons (Der Händler der vier Jahreszeiten)

Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
West Germany, 1971, color, 89 min.
With Hans Hirschmüller, Irm Hermann, Hanna Schygulla
German with English subtitles

The first Fassbinder film to garner broad praise in Germany and acclaim abroad, this color-saturated family drama with social overtones is set during the “economic miracle” years of the 1950s. The film’s protagonist has returned from a stint in the French Foreign Legion and has just been fired from his job in the police force for consorting with a streetwalker. His bourgeois family is horrified when he begins to peddle fruits and vegetables from a pushcart, and his socially conscious girlfriend leaves him. Settling for a loveless marriage with a manipulative wife, he sinks into increasing depression until the ultimate Fassbinderian resolution. An amalgam of high melodrama, street-smart action, and black comedy, the film remains a moral tale of unusual potency.

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October 11 (Saturday) 7 pm
November 17 (Monday) 7 pm

The Marriage of Maria Braun (Die Ehe der Maria Braun)

Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
West Germany, 1978, color, 120 min.
With Hanna Schygulla, Klaus Löwitsch, Ivan Desny
German with English subtitles

 

Introduced by Issa Clubb of The Criterion Collection

A parable of post-World War II Germany, Fassbinder's film recounts the transformation of an impoverished war bride (Schygulla) into a mercenary business woman. The best known of Fassbinder's trilogy of historical films about the Federal Republic's "economic miracle" of the 1950s and one of the major productions of the New German Cinema, The Marriage of Maria Braun is equally a melodrama of the highest order - Fassbinder's successful realization of his desire to create for Germany the equivalent of a classic Hollywood movie. Maria's failures at fidelity become a metaphor for the false optimism of the society that surrounds her: we hear Adenauer in the background succumb to weakness as his pledge never to rearm the nation falls victim to the irresistible allure of power.

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October 11 (Saturday) 9:15 pm

Lili Marleen

Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
West Germany, 1980, color, 120 min.
With Hanna Schygulla, Giancarlo Giannini, Mel Ferrer
German with English subtitles

Following the success of The Marriage of Maria Braun, Fassbinder created a controversial picture of life in Nazi Germany, focusing on another woman who is both participant in and victim of her times. Schygulla portrays the singer Lale Andersen, whose famous rendition of the song "Lili Marleen" became as popular with the besieged and dying troops of Germany as it did with those on the Soviet side. The story focuses on the unfulfilled love affair between the Nazi darling and a brilliant young Jewish-Swiss composer. This lush and incisive production both critiques and sympathizes with the state of mind of common people who are subject to powerful cultural forces.

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October 12 (Sunday) 7 pm

Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? (Warum läuft Herr R. Amok?)

Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
West Germany, 1969, color, 88 min.
With Lilith Ungerer, Kurt Raab, Franz Maron
German with English subtitles

A devastating critique of the German middle class, Fassbinder's fourth feature film portrays the promising but normative life of Herr R., a skilled draftsman with an ambitious wife who nurtures no greater goals than to quietly pursue his hobbies, oversee his son's homework, and on occasion entertain his in-laws. But as the title suggests, all is not well, and one evening the contradictions and compromises that have remained in check erupt with a vengeance.

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October 12 (Sunday) 9 pm

In a Year of Thirteen Moons (In einem Jahr mit 13 Monden)

Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
West Germany, 1978, color, 129 min.
With Volker Spengler, Ingrid Caven, Gottfried John
German with English subtitles

Dedicated by Fassbinder to a lover who committed suicide, the film follows a transsexual during the last five days of his life as he contemplates the past and the unlikely possibility for a future. A relentlessly pessimistic film, In a Year of Thirteen Moons is filled with harsh colors, asymmetrical sets, and a discordant soundtrack. Fassbinder's shifting narrative evokes the squalor of his character's situation and portrays the city of Frankfurt am Main as an oppressive metropolis populated by the mad and the perverse.

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October 13 (Monday) 9 pm

I Only Want You to Love Me (Ich will doch nur, dass ihr mich liebt)

Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
West Germany, 1976, color, 104 min.
With Vitus Zeplichal, Elke Aberle, Alexander Allerson
German with English subtitles

Another portrait of the emptiness of the middle-class ethos, I Only Want You to Love Me is a rarely-screened work, commissioned by German television. In it Fassbinder follows a maladjusted young construction worker who, having endured a loveless childhood, attempts to buy the love he feels has been denied him. During his free time, Peter builds his parents a house and purchases expensive furniture and appliances for his wife. Under the strain of mounting debts and long work days, he eventually snaps and, in a moment of disassociation, enters the realm of classic Fassbinderian violence.

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October 17 (Friday) 6 pm (Parts 1-5)
October 18 (Saturday) 6 pm (Parts 6-10)
October 19 (Sunday) 6 pm (Parts 11-14)

Berlin Alexanderplatz

Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Italy/West Germany, 1980, color, 910 min. total running time
With Günter Lamprecht, Elisabeth Trissenaar, Karin Baal
German with English subtitles

Berlin Alexanderplatz is the summa of Fassbinder's art and the culmination of his lifelong relationship with Alfred Döblin's monumental novel of Berlin in the 1920s, a book he said was "embedded in my mind, my flesh, my body as a whole, and my soul." Originally produced as a 13-part made-for-television movie (though always intended to reach the cinemas), Berlin Alexanderplatz captures in sweeping detail the decadence of the Weimar Republic in which Nazism had already begun to spread. Fassbinder employs dark and claustrophobic settings, more than one hundred actors, and thousands of extras to deal with his favorite themes: the destructive pressures of society and the inevitability with which people exploit and hurt those they love. With a total running time of 15 hours, it comes closer than most film experiences to the richness that great novels offer, and concludes with a 111-minute dream sequence epilogue unlike anything Fassbinder ever made. Berlin Alexanderplatz is quite simply a masterpiece.

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October 20 (Monday) 9 pm

Nora Helmer

Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
West Germany, 1973, color, 101 min.
With Margit Carstensen, Joachim Hansen, Ulli Lommel
German with English subtitles

Fassbinder's made-for-television adaptation of Ibsen's 'The Doll's House' remains faithful to the narrative trajectory of the play even as it shifts the psychological and social register of its discourse and rejects the original ending: in Fassbinder's complex moral universe, Nora remains, albeit uncomfortably, in her marriage. For the director, Nora's plight is no more and no less the situation that obtains in "tens of thousands of families" - in which petty quarrels and feeble power plays barely mask the inevitable compromises required by the prevailing social order. As Fassbinder saw it, "All the characters in the play, including Nora, ought to emancipate themselves."

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October 27 (Monday) 9 pm

Bremen Freedom (Bremen Freiheit)

Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
West Germany 1972, color, 87 min.
With Margit Carstensen, Wolfgang Schenck, Wolfgang Kieling
German with English subtitles

This made-for-television period drama set in early nineteenth-century Bremen focuses on an abused wife and mother turned serial murderer who obtains the titled "freedom" with the help of a poison bottle. Fassbinder based his work on an historical account of a middle-class woman and pillar of the community who managed to kill not only a tyrannical spouse and her own harping mother but also another dozen or so additional individuals.

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