Saturday, May 21, 2005

Inspired by the Film Center's current retrospective series, I tried a couple more Fassbinder films recently: Ali: Fear Eats the Soul and The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant.

I can't exactly call myself a Fassbinder fan. His films aren't always enjoyable for me, but he's important, a crucial link between two directors I do enjoy, Douglas Sirk and Todd Haynes, so he's someone whose work I feel somewhat obligated to investigate. I say he isn't always enjoyable, but of course that's intentional. The films are anti-bourgeois. "His style was antistyle" (David Thomson), his cinema an "anti-cinema" (Farber and Patterson). I enjoyed reading about these two films afterwards much more than actually watching them, esp. in the case of Bitter Tears which was mostly tedious to sit through, speechified and clautrophobic. I liked Ali better, as well as the two other Fassbinder films I've seen, Querelle (seen long ago) and In a Year of Thirteen Moons, and even Francois Ozon's filming of a Fassbinder play, Water Drops On Burning Rocks.

Although I liked the final scene of Bitter Tears, because the relationship between von Kant and Marlene is mysterious and powerful, still, overall the film reminded me of Bergman's lesser films (he can be a chore to get through, too). Fassbinder's distancing techniques certainly work, but I didn't see the point here. Being uninvolved emotionally with the characters is fine if you're given a lot to think about, but all I found to think about here was the filmmaking techniques (including the resourceful camera shots). Petra is a fool, and an obvious and fairly unsympathetic one at that, lying and abusing others as she is later lied to and abused.

Ali, on the other hand, was easier to watch. Directly inspired by my favorite Sirk film (so far), All That Heaven Allows, it was more familiar, but as melodrama it's problematic--the characters are difficult to believe, impossibly naive. Fassbinder pares back Sirk's style until the narrative is so simple, it's nearly insulting. Is he trying to expose societal ills all the more clearly? Is he partly making fun of the genre's goals? He seems to care about these characters too much for me to think so. The Todd Haynes interview included in the Criterion DVD package was excellent, shedding light on his own work (esp. Far From Heaven) as well as Fassbinder and Sirk. Haynes helped me to understand Fassbinder's concerns, his approach, his subtle (for example, the film's extreme, tableau-like depiction of judgmental 'looks'), but in the end I still felt both Fassbinder and Haynes had fallen short of the mark.

Still, Ali has some very memorable moments, like the scene where the lovers dine at an outdoor cafe while the staff stares on in disapproval, and memorable ideas, such as the argument over couscous being what drives Ali into another woman's arms. Even stronger was the way he shows Emmi being excluded by her coworkers only to find that inclusion later comes at the cost of excluding some new social outcast, a foreigner. Fassbinder's understanding of social forces, clearly based on his experiences as a gay man (the actor playing Ali was his lover), is excellent. His understanding of the psychology of character was much weaker. Emmi and Ali seems like straw figures.


Skimming a review of The Triplets of Bellevilleby Richard Neupert in the Spring 2005 Film Quartlerly, I was interested to see his reference to "a renaissance in French animation" that, aside from including two films I love, Triplets and Kirikou and the Sorceress, also included two I'd never heard of, The Children of the Rain and Raining Cats and Frogs. The scant reviews on IMDb don't impress much, but it's still an interesting lead.

Song: Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was mildly disappointing but had its share of fun moments, esp. an opening number sung by the dophins of Earth, "So Long and Thanks for All the Fish" So Long & Thanks for All the Fish



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