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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 Golden Rule, set among male lovers in mis 70s Germany
In an interview with RW Fassbinder, he mentioned that it was important to him that this be the first movie featuring homosexuals where that wasn't the problem, or rather that wasn't some kind of big focus- they're gay, big deal, get over it, lets go on with the rest of the story. And his intentions were realized since it's not about homosexuals, per-say, but about class. In the film Fox (Fassbinder himself in part of the title role) is a carnival worker- Fox and the Severed Head the act is, and in a clever turn Fassbinder never shows us his own character's trick, perhaps as an allusion to disappointment in the film for Fox- and loses his job, only to miraculously win the lottery and meet a man (Peter Chatel) who is a little more well-spoken and well-raised, from a richer background than Fox's working-class roots. But Fox falls in love, and soon they get an apartment, as well as Fox becoming a business partner for his new lover's father's business.
There is some melodrama, to be sure, but it's only somewhat about romance between two men, or about men who want to pick up other men for sex (there are a couple of very interesting scenes of this, such as when Fox and Eugen are on vacation and bicker with one another as to what to do with a Moroccan; Salem from Fear Eats the Soul in a great bit part). But it's more about money, about status and the crushing sense of self-worth that comes in a society based on a value system - even in the "lower" class, like the guys at the bar and the bar owner, who have their own sense of worth in their community, one that is not totally at ease with Fox after a while. Often Fassbinder has dealt with the element of the outsider in society, and here one can find no better example: Fox is awkward, doesn't always say the smart things, is not "book" smart to get by with intellectuals nor does he have the butch capacity of those like the traveling-through American soldiers.
And yet at the same time Fox is, as well as the way Fassbinder brilliantly plays him, a good person at heart, not meaning to really hurt anyone, but just f***ing up a lot of the time, like when he puts through 40,000 pamphlets the wrong way through a copy machine at his work. Indeed I can't think of anyone else in Fassbinder's circle of actors who could've done it better: he's someone we sympathize with, even when he messes up royally or does the wrong thing at a family dinner or when his sister, a classic blue-collar woman, gets drunk and embarrasses those around her. He is, at least, more human than the out-for-his-own Eugen (and, likewise, Chatel portrays this coldness very effectively, like when we see his eyes darting around and lying right behind Fox). It takes a little time in the middle for things to get really interesting with the plot, in seeing Fox rising little by little to his quasi-ascension to a plastic happiness, as it were. But once Fassbinder gets there to the meaty parts of the drama, it's hard to resist its pleasures.
And, also, there's some funny moments too, and as Fassbinder is such a likable guy on screen (ironic considering his reputation) there ends up being a few sardonic moments of humor, little jabs here and there about sex or that very obvious scene where Eugen is caught with having Fox in his apartment with another man coming by in the morning... and the twist, late in the film, when this situation becomes reversed. Fox and His Friends is not a masterpiece, but it is essential viewing in the Fassbinder cannon, for the way he goes about telling this story, how he avoids making it *about* gay people (just as he avoided making it simply about race in Fear Eats the Soul), and he himself proves himself a very good actor here in his own right.
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