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Franz "Fox" Biberkopf is a working-class guy, at loose ends when his lover is arrested and the police shutter their carnival booth. In need of cash for his weekly lottery purchase, Fox lets himself be picked up by an elegant older man named Max. At Max's, he meets two younger gay men who have expensive tastes and images to uphold. The next day, Fox wins 500,000 marks in the lottery, and Max's friends suddenly become Fox's friends, especially Eugen, the heir to a bookbinding firm that's short of cash. Eugen's polish beguiles Fox, and the fleecing begins. Written by
The normally overweight Rainer Werner Fassbinder dieted strenuously to lose weight in order to play the role of Fox, which included a full-frontal nude scene. See more »
There are drunks lying everywhere! The state should do something. It's the same everywhere. In Helsinki recently, there were so many drunks lying around even though it's hard to get alcohol in Finland.
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I'm continually blown away with Fassbinder. And it's all the more affecting because, like all great artists, he challenges your conceptions and forces you to have a new experience. We have to fight our way through his movie, critiquing everything we see. Fox is sure he will win the lottery. Today will be the day. And, he does. Like the ending of "Ordet," this is a cliché embraced, but why? Fassbinder is far too intelligent and original a talent to be conventional without a reason. (In fact, in a regular movie Fox's lottery win would be a thrilling set-piece, sitting in front of a TV screen in a living room, with some dying family member in a hospital bed awaiting money for treatment. Here, we don't even see the win.) Of course the lottery win is a set-up for the way money affects a relationship, especially in gay culture.
Basically, Fassbinder is truth. There's a much more honest depiction of factory work here than in, say, von Trier's later films, where he dotes on the "common" man (just as often, woman) as if a simpleton that we should feel sorry for (I doubt they feel sorry for themselves; von Trier just obliges us to feel that way on their behalf). The mistakes made here are by the controllers of the factory -- it's Fox's scheming lover's father who gets the business bankrupt, and it's Fox, after he lends his lover money to get them out of debt, who screws up the printing. But Fox isn't humiliated by his mistake, whereas a blind, helpless Bjork in "Dancer in the Dark" is made to be a pitiable object. (To be fair, both Fassbinder and von Trier have a tendency to wallow in the miserable.)
Fassbinder focuses his film mainly on the class barrier -- Fox's lover makes insulting comments to him regarding proper manners -- but he's also giving us a kind of gay relationship film noir -- we see ex-lovers kissing (in a ceiling mirror!) behind current lovers' backs, and money corruption plays a large part in the film. (Fox's lover is excellent in his role; he never plays a character who's sole purpose for living is to plot in a corner about how he'll be evil today.) And Fassbinder's view of society as something that destroys people is very noirish (Fox isn't completely in the dark; he does understand he's being used as it's happening). But to be sure, Fassbinder is also detailing the upper-class homosexual in a very critical way; but I think he could have done much more exposing the shallowness of gay culture. (He mainly treats Fox's lover and his ex-/secret lover with peeking-through-keyhole disdain, no doubt partly from Fox's perspective, but I find that somewhat childish and not terribly interesting. It's the view of someone who's been screwed over and feels depressed about it, not someone intent on exposing why people are corrupt, and how.) You don't know quite how to feel about this; in a way Fassbinder is very brave -- he casts himself in an incredibly unromantic role. And at the same time it's interesting because, while Fassbinder doesn't seem too pleased with the superficial manner of the gays whose eyes immediately fixate on money and looks, his own film features an abundance of male nudity early on, of young, very attractive boys that Fox himself is quite attracted to.
On a more technical aspect, there are plenty of interesting shots, of reflections, or obscurities, or of the backs of heads or bodies; one particularly stand-out scene is the one where Fox and his lover are vacationing in Morocco and cruise for a man, and when in a taxi with him the camera observes the festival around them while we listen to their discussion. (The man they pick up is Ali from "Fear Eats the Soul," and many of Fassbinder's stable appear in the film. The fact that it's Ali playing a Moroccan -- albeit, one that's ostensibly gay, so it may not in fact be Ali -- gives the film a self-referential bent, though it's never gimmicky; rather, a continuous web of obsessions; there is a comment on racism inputted in this scene, as well.) The ending of the film is a bit too cruel and heavy-handed, though the pessimist in me appreciates it, the part of me that believes society is a pitiless social system out to wreck anything with a pureness of soul. 9/10
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