Hans Epp is a self-destructive man who lives a dissatisfied life. He tries to find meaning as a fruit vendor, but a heart attack impedes his ability to work, which turns his dissatisfaction into despair.
Fruit vendor Hans cannot please his family. His mother harps on his failures. His wife is openly discontent. He must peddle produce to his beloved ex-girlfriend, and he is mocked by his customers for being shorter and fatter than his wife. He is withdrawn, crushed, and humiliated. He can not meet the high standards of his mother, he has to give up his job as a police officer when he gets involved with a prostitute in the office. He turns to drinking and violence, but his rage causes his wife and daughter to leave him. While desperately begging for their return, he suffers a debilitating heart attack. His family comes back, but Hans is unable to work and must hire help for his fruit stand. Hans' first employee is his wife's ex-lover, whom he fires for embezzling. He then hires a friend and hero from his legionnaire days, Harry, out of pity. Harry is hardworking, diligent, and clever. He turns Hans' business around and enlivens his home life. Harry's success also begins to displace Hans...
THE MERCHANT OF FOUR SEASONS was Rainer Werner Fassbinder's first shot at mainstream acceptance. In a turbulent career of just fifteen years, he managed to create an astounding body of work in film and theater, both as a performer and a creative producer, actor, and director. Although this movie might not appeal to many viewers, the film has much to offer. The storyline is fairly straightforward. A man is ostracized from his upper middle class family due to emotional and economic problems, and proves unable to control his downward spiral. THE MERCHANT OF FOUR SEASONS is shot with a slavish devotion to elegant detail, and each set is very carefully designed and constructed. Every object on set seems painstakingly arranged so as to provoke layers of emotional texture. Many religious paintings and icons decorate the walls of the various rooms and seem to speak to Hans's desperate quest for spiritual meaning or direction in his life. Much thought was given to how lighting and color were employed to contrast and enhance the drama. Several times during the film, I froze the frame to marvel at the beauty of the shot's composition. I streamed this film, and the print was nearly flawless and second to none. Fassbinder employs his actors in an almost vehement "Anti-Natural' style. He does everything possible to prevent the actors from reacting in a normal or colloquial manner, and this creates a rather stilted effect. However, by doing so, he injects an almost 'hyper-reality' to the narrative. Rather than the presentation of a mundane melodrama, the actors almost militant lack of affectation forces the viewer to confront the film in a different manner. Fassbinder's film intentionally prevents the viewer from easily connecting with the characters' trials and tribulations. You are constantly on the outside, looking in. This will be a disconcerting experience for many, but I found it to be a unique and satisfying artistic adventure.
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