Wednesday, 22 March 2017

The Merchant of Four Seasons

Year of Release:  1971
Director:  Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Screenplay:  Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Starring:  Hans Hirschmuller, Irm Hermann, Hanna Schygulla, Klaus Lowitsch
Running Time:  89 minutes
Genre:  Drama

All Hans Epp (Hirschmuller) wanted was to become a mechanic and marry the love of his life (Ingrid Caven).  However, as a stint in the police and the Foreign Legion, Hans is working as a fruit peddler, selling his wares in the courtyards and streets of Munich.  He is unhappily married to Irmgard (Hermann), and they have a young daughter, Renate (Andrea Schober).  Disliked and regarded with contempt by his family (particularly his own mother (Gusti Kreissl) who seems to hate him), Hans drinks heavily to drown his sorrows, and, after beating his wife in a drunken rage, suffers a near fatal stroke.  After he recovers, Hans reconciles with Irmgard and his business goes from strength to strength, but his inner demons are never far away, and he soon finds himself drifting towards self-destruction.

In a professional career lasting just fifteen years, German film-maker Rainer Werner Fassbinder made over forty films, several of which are acknowledged classics of World Cinema, before his untimely death at the age of 37.  The Merchant of Four Seasons is widely regarded as one of Fassbinder's best works, and it certainly is one of his most accessible.  This was his breakthrough film both domestically and internationally, and the first of a string of melodramas inspired by the works of Hollywood director Douglas Sirk.  Every shot in the film is carefully composed and constructed, and the performances are deliberately artificial and non-naturalistic, a style he developed during his time as a theater director.  For a melodrama that deals very much with emotion, this has a curious distancing effect, but it is powerful.  The long scene where Hans attacks his wife, filmed from a static camera at some distance, despite not being graphic is difficult to watch, intensified by the camera's dispassionate gaze.  It's a sometimes painful attack on marriage, family and middle-class life, which will certainly not be too everyone's taste.  It is a very good film, that held my attention throughout, and I am glad that I saw it, however I did not enjoy it.  I would say that if you are interested in Fassbinder, this is a good place to start with his work.

        Hans Hirschmuller and Irm Hermann in The Merchant of Four Seasons

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