Hans is a street fruit peddler and born-loser. His choice of career upsets his bourgeois family, causing him to turn to drinking and violence. After recovering from a debilitating heart ... See full summary »
Hans is a street fruit peddler and born-loser. His choice of career upsets his bourgeois family, causing him to turn to drinking and violence. After recovering from a debilitating heart attack, his business finally begins to take off. However the more he becomes a credit to his family, the more depressed he becomes. One sociable day, while toasting his friends and family, he decides to drink himself to death. Written by
stay with the film and it may engross you, somehow
The Merchant of Four Seasons isn't what I would call a happy movie, at all, or even one that impressed me to the point of praising it to the sky (there are other Fassbinder flicks for that, like Veronika Voss and the underrated Satan's Brew). But it's certainly no less than a fascinating experiment in taking a look at those in a society that you and me and others we know might possibly know, or not really want to know. I imagine in the early 70s in Germany a generation, coming out of WW2, had a stigma to live with but tried their best just to get by. This is a stigma that floats all over this film, and in many instances in Fassbinder's work in general, but especially because with Four Seasons he takes his eye on the middle class, and a particular married couple- the distanced, depressed, angry Hans the fruit seller and his long-suffered wife- that is nothing short than trying for realism in the guise of melodrama. If Cassavetes were a crazy German he might make this film, maybe even as just a lark.
The story sounds simple enough, where Hans' drinking gets out of control, he beats his wife (this scene is one of the toughest to take, maybe in just any movie, the way Fassbinder's camera lingers without a cut as his wife is left helpless and their daughter trying to stop him in his frenzy) and then she's ready to leave him. As he stands in the room, her family holding him back, she makes the call for divorce and he gets a heart attack right there. He recovers, his business suddenly starts booming again with some help from some good (or not so good) employees - and yet this only continues his longing, for another woman, and his despair in general.
And yet it's in this simplicity that Fassbinder tries, and succeeds for the most part, in attaining a mood of dread, of a tense vibe in a kitchen or in the bedroom or out on the street that you can cut with a knife and bleed out. The weakest part of this all may be the acting... at least that was my initial impression. Hans, played by Hirschmuller, can be a stilted presence, with only the slightest movements in his face and eyes, and for a while it doesn't look like he's much of a good actor. The actress playing his wife, Irm Hermann, and her sister (Fassbinder Hanna Schygulla) fare better, but only cause they're given more to do conventionally, like cry or look concerned. It takes some time to adjust to what is, essentially, a void in his guy Hans, of something from his own psychological self-torment or self-pity that pervades himself and those around him who just want to get on with some sense of normalcy, especially once Hans gets successful.
Not everything clicks together in The Merchant of Four Seasons, but enough did to make me recommend it to those looking for a different slice-of-life than you might be used to with more modern American movies. Fassbinder's world here is a combat between the melodrama he loves in cinema and the harsh, crushing sense of humanism that he feels personally and puts into characters that, for better or worse, we somehow identify with. Are the Epps a family you know of? Or could you even be them? Who's to say. It's a methodical study of tragic emptiness in the human spirit, and its goals are all attained.
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