A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Fear of Fear (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1975)

Margit Carstensen in Fear of Fear
Margot: Margit Carstensen
Kurt: Ulrich Faulhaber
Mother: Brigitte Mira
Lore: Irm Hermann
Karli: Armin Meier
Dr. Merck: Adrian Hoven
Mr. Bauer: Kurt Raab

Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Screenplay: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Cinematography: Jürgen Jürges
Design director: Kurt Raab
Music: Peer Raben

As the title of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's film suggests, the protagonist, Margot, is stuck in a kind of emotional feedback loop: Her anxiety is exacerbated by the fear that she'll have another anxiety attack. As a sufferer of free-floating anxiety myself, I know the problem: Your inability to control fears that you know to be absurd undermines your sense of self, thereby arousing more fears. Fear of Fear, made for German television, is not an entirely satisfactory portrait of the problem: Fassbinder loads too much against Margot. Beautiful, model-thin, she's married to a loving but homely schlub, who is so preoccupied with passing an examination that he tends to shut her out. Moreover, they live in the same house as her mother-in-law, a homely woman who resents Margot's beauty, and constantly rates her for laziness, for neglecting her children, for not cooking wholesome meals for her family, and the criticism is only echoed by Margot's sister-in-law, Lore. Brigitte Mira and Irm Hermann bring these Dickensian harpies to full life, but the element of caricature in the conception of the roles, though it adds a splash of needed dark humor, tends to undermine one's sense of Margot's plight as a real-world experience. Margot tries to escape from her ills into exercise, but she even gets criticized for swimming too much. So the other avenues of escape follow: Valium, alcohol (she guzzles cognac straight from the bottle), and sex. She begins sleeping with the handsome pharmacist across the way, partly to thank him for illegally refilling her Valium prescription when she runs out. Naturally, her dalliance is discovered, and Lore's husband, Karli, even tries to make a move on her. Finally, after being misdiagnosed as schizophrenic, she goes to a mental institution where she's treated for depression. Seemingly cured, she returns home, but the film ends on a doubtful note: After learning that the strange man who stares at her and her daughter on their way home from kindergarten has committed suicide, she once again experiences an anxiety attack, which throughout the film Fassbinder has shown from Margot's point of view as a kind of rippling in the image. Margit Carstensen's performance carries the film, with the help of Fassbinder's shrewd direction, filming scenes through doorways and in mirror frames to suggest Margot's entrapment.

Filmstruck Criterion Channel

No comments: