A young carnival worker wins the lottery and gets taken in by an upper class socialite who may or may not have his best intentions at heart.
Rainer Werner Fassbinder was a filmmaker who put it all into his art. Highly prolific he created 36 films in his short life that were parallel to his own personal struggles and tribulations. He is an inspiration for me as an artist because he was not afraid to let you know how messed up we all are at times and to examine the worst in human nature. This film is one of his best films and one that makes you uncomfortable down to the core as we all can relate to the feeling of self-deception through the act of buying others.
Franz Bieberkopf or Fox (Played by Rainer Werner Fassbinder) is a naïve carnival worker who is the Talking Head. He lives with his sister who is a raging alcoholic and his boyfriend has been recently incarcerated for tax fraud. Every day he spends his hard earned marks to purchase a lottery ticket for a better life as he is now unemployed due to his boyfriend (Carnival Boss) incarceration.
One day he loses his money and decides to pick up someone to provide him with the money to purchase another lottery ticket. He meets a posh older gentleman who drives him around town but doesn’t loan Fox the money. He enters into a flower shop and swindles the money from the shop keeper and drives pressures his John to drive to the ticket agent before it closes at 6.
Later on in the film, Fox is shown dressed more polished at a plush party where the gentleman who drove him Max (Played Karlheinz Boehm) introduces him to Eugen (played by Peter Chatel). One thing I love about the acting in Fassbinder’s films is that the actors are rarely affected. Their performances may be stylized but they fit within the context of the films very well. Jean Luc Godard was the master of this understated melodrama in films, where the characters are so guarded that they become human in their need to ascend whatever ladder they wish to climb up on. Fassbinder learned well and it provides a solid punch in this film.
Eugen and Fox move in together and seem to be having some problems. Eugen is cold and detached to Fox’s doting and intense energy. The dynamics between the two actors makes this film really shine because it is so true to life in the sense that you really feel as if Fox wants to be Eugen so bad that he is willing to sell his soul to have a glimpse of what Eugen provides. Peter Chatel is great as Eugen. He evokes a great sense of sadness from the audience as well as disdain. Even though he leaves his lover to be with Fox you can tell he doesn’t love anything but image itself and that is very telling of the materialism that all of the characters are victims of in this film.
Fox quickly begins to burn through his lottery money on Eugen as well as alienating his former life. The scenes of culture class are the funniest to me because Fox’s coarseness and Eugen trying to hold back his disgust make for very telling cinema. The scene where Eugen has to describe a French meal in coarse German was very hilarious because Fox didn’t get it. Eugen eventually hooks Fox into buying the debt to his Father’s company to save it from Bankruptcy in a rather shoddy fashion.
Eugen proceeds to encourage Fox to spend money frivolously and Fox does as he is told. He spends money on a new car, new clothes from Eugen’s ex-boyfriends shop. He spends so much money that you start to wonder when he is going to see he is getting swindled but he never lets up.
One of the things I admire about Fassbinder is his use of set and color. It is like a Grimm fairy tale of the innocent naïve youth being eaten up by the vicious wolf. The colors are bright and vibrant but the story line is so dark that it creates a really interesting dichotomy to witness as an audience member. The latter parts of the film like the bar scenes and the scenes with Eugen are always in darker cooler colors while Fox’s earlier parts are always bright and vivid. I love that.
They have a party at Fox’s house where he lends his former lover money 30,000 marks in which Eugen gets rather defensive about. The 3rdact of the film is when Eugen starts to bring his scheme to fruition Fox had been working at Eugen’s father’s factory for free but finds out that they have been disguising his “interest payments” as salary for Fox. The apartment is used as collateral when Fox messes up a machine in the factory. Fox is now homeless. His sister is upset at him for abandoning her for bourgeoisie aspirations so he is not allowed back into her apartment. He sells his expensive car for less than what he paid just to have some money to live on. Fox goes to a bar and becomes paranoid that everyone is using him for money when some American Soldiers proposition him for sex and he throws money at the man he stole money from originally in the flower shop.
Fox eventually kills himself by ingesting pills and is robbed by two young boys in the police station. His ex-boyfriend and Max pass over his body and go about their way as not to get involved.
For me this film is not about the sexuality of the characters as it is about the consumptive nature of wild unfettered materialism that showcases the inner animalistic tendencies of our natures. I know not everyone will like this film but it is incredibly provocative and I believe one of Rainer’s best films as its lessons have withstood the test of time.
The characters are the most developed and full in probably any film of his and he really practices great restraint as to make them as concise as possible. The pacing is swift which is incredible for Rainer Fassbinder whose films can become lugubrious with director affectations for actors. It’s a great film because it is distinct. The message is clear that we are all victims of our need to dehumanize ourselves through money.
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