Thursday, November 27, 2014

A Mood for Despair

A few years ago on this very blog, I explored my fascination with Rainer Werner Fassbinder, an enormously ambitious and prolific filmmaker who left behind an extraordinary body of work before his death at 37. Many of his films (The Merchant of Four Seasons, Why Does Herr R. Run Amok?, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul) are brilliant, at least one is great (the massive Berlin Alexanderplatz), and some are just awful (Whity, Satan's Brew). He had more highs than lows, but there's no question that a number of his early movies were tossed off too quickly, and don't leave that much of an impression.

And then there are a few that are tossed off quickly and still leave an impression.

Such is the case with Gods of the Plague (Götter der Pest). I could find almost nothing to say about it when I first saw it, mainly because it just seemed a routine, very underwritten crime drama. 

Saw it again recently. It still lacks story and character, but it's very much of a mood piece. It's an evocative slice of early 1970s low-down German realism, aided in no small part by the stunning cinematography of Dietrich Lohmann -- who continued working with the director for many years -- as well as the lugubrious instrumental score by Peer Raben. You can smell the dank bars with their lingering cigarette smoke and spilled beer, the stale atmosphere of cramped apartments, and you can feel the somewhat desperate love of his characters for each other.

Strong performances by the wonderful Hanna Schygulla and (future world-class director) Margarethe von Trotta.

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