Love God? [1969]

Genre: Comedy
Love Is Colder Than Death The first feature in the frantic career of Rainer Werner Fassbinder is, like Godard's debut Breathless, a nod to the traditional gangster movie. This time, however, the tough-guy attitudes are imparted to a trio of typical Fassbinder losers, slouching about in the drab underworld of Munich. They are played by Alain Delon lookalike Ulli Lommel (who poses in a trenchcoat and film noir fedora), Fassbinder himself, and the director's blond goddess Hanna Schygulla. The film works hard to subvert conventional notions of movie storytelling, with lots of loooong pauses and stylized gestures--and as such, feels more like a trial run than a full-blown Fassbinder meisterwork. But everywhere, in the insolent opening shot or the final thrilling cut from car interior to bleak landscape, you can sense the utter confidence that burbled out of this gifted German: he was only 23, and he was going places in a hurry. --Robert Horton Gods of the Plague The short-lived skyrocket named Rainer Werner Fassbinder began his prolific directing career with a burst of rule-breaking movies in 1969-70. Gods of the Plague, from that early eruption, is a kind of homage-deconstruction of the American crime movie, in the same vein as RWF's Love Is Colder Than Death and The American Soldier. An ex-con (zonked-out Harry Baer in an ankle-length leather jacket) wanders through grungy Munich, on an eventual collision course with a botched supermarket robbery. The film has virtually no narrative momentum, and carries the cheeky attitude of experimental theater--the movie stops cold as the hero listens to a German nonsense song in its entirety. Yet from the first five minutes you can sense the eye of a great filmmaker behind the exquisitely poised camera (clearly influenced in this one by the anything-goes spirit of early Godard). Fassbinder regulars Hanna Schygulla and Gunther Kaufmann are especially good here. --Robert Horton Fear of Fear If not among the better-known films by the gifted German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Fear of Fear is nevertheless an absolutely characteristic work. A housewife, locked into a dull life with her distracted husband and two small children (plus nattering mother-in-law and sister-in-law living in the apartment upstairs) finds herself seized by uncontrollable anxiety. Although the wife has an affair with a doctor, there is little conventional melodrama; instead, Fassbinder strips away plot mechanics in favor of a complete identification with the woman's mysterious angst. The central role is tailor-made for one of RWF's favorite leading ladies, Margit Carstensen, whose regal cheekbones and elegant air belie the instability beneath the skin. Fassbinder's eye is exacting--the apartment is a dead-on purgatory of bourgeois nothingness--and his framing shows the influence of his Hollywood idol, Douglas Sirk. This is a small work in the bulging Fassbinder canon, but it's impeccably realized. --Robert Horton Chinese Roulette An elegantly baroque exercise from the middle of his brief and brilliant career, Chinese Roulette finds Rainer Werner Fassbinder exploring the sinister side of a weekend in the country. At an isolated mansion, a husband and wife bump into each other--with their lovers in tow. Their lame daughter shows up with her mute nanny, adding to the tension, and the festivities culminate in a spiteful truth-telling game. Fassbinder choreographs the claustrophobic action as though it were Last Year at Marienbad filmed as soap opera parody, with glittering contributions from cinematographer Michael Ballhaus and RWF's longtime composer, Peer Raben. It's fun to watch, although the decadent sense of a snake chasing its tail ultimately makes this one feel like minor-league Fassbinder. Along with stock-company regulars Margit Carstensen and Brigitte Mira, the cast includes a pair of former Godard heroines (still looking stunning), Anna Karina and Macha Meril. --Robert Horton

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