Angst essen Seele auf (1974)

“Angst essen Seele auf” (1974)


mirrors, people, angst

Arguably, or not so much, cinema was the major driving force in the redefining of west Germany soul, for the generation born during or immediately after the war. These folks, who entered the active adult life already in the 60′ had a lot going on on their collective consciousness: The heritage of Nazism, who was not clearly well discussed (or not discussed at all), instead buried deep, of course, and specially for a Bavarian director, like Fassbinder. Guys from his generation were probably the first to address the theme, conveniently forgotten by their parents; The things going on right than, at that moment, the confrontation of Germany with the need of demographic globalization, the pressure of immigration, added to how, in the beginning of the 70′ the traditional Christian conservative society was reacting to the frictions and fractures genuinely opened in the prosperous 60′. Sex, moral, family. Everything shaken and questioned. But more important, and this, i think, is the motto that binds most German artists of this period, the deep questioning about where Germany, the former cultural beacon of Europe would fit now that it meant nothing, and was suspiciously overlooked, even by west Germans. Wenders accepted the ongoing “americanization” of Germany, so much that he supported his film imagination on American films, namely those made by some Germanic immigrants in Hollywood. Fassbinder remained highly German in his approach, and highly attached to a Germanic sense of world, even when trashing every symbol under which he grew.

This is not a light subject, a country lost in its own illusions, unable to believe them anymore, unable to believe the palliative alternative injected in a couple decades, and even worse, unable to forge new believable illusions, is doomed to self-destruction. I understand this, as a Portuguese living today, under vestiges of lost imperial illusions, under a painful sense of collective uselessness. It’s i ironic that i should have got to Fassbinder right now, in a moment when Germany seems to be willing to suppress cultural autonomy in favor of economic control in Europe. Lessons that go unlearned. But we have Fassbinder, and this film is a perfect anguished document of bygone times, and there is something to be learned here.

The man films who he is, at every painful moment. There is a very special head working here, a very disturbed one, and you can see the sense of disappointment, the total lack of hope and faith that passes through his veins. Superficially, this is the story of a relatively impossible love, condemned by society, one that has to overcome prejudice in order to exist. The improbable lovers face friends, family, and society, and than they face themselves and their own doubts. Love apparently triumphs (with an ulcer in the middle). But life is painful in the world of Fassbinder, and happiness is only the less painful option among the misery of existence. Self-destruction seems to be the only valuable way to exist in more than permanent numbness. Apart from the Emmi, who stands straight and correctly, and doesn’t give in, every character in the film, including Ali is bad, or at least terribly weak, unable to face any challenge whatsoever, easily driven away by escapism. What a mirror to Fassbinder’s life, to Fassbinder’s spirit, to his soul.

If you want to find true visual challenges in German cinema of this period, you’ll have to go to Wenders, and Herzog. In Wenders, you’ll also find a kind of mainstream version of how a west German should feel, in an ideal, Adenauer forged Germany. But it is in Fassbinder that you’ll find all the angst, all the fears, all the hopes of post-war Germans, that in a much larger extent, mirror those of the majority of western Europe. This film is a fine piece of that mental puzzle. But it is not great cinema, it does not progress, it is sensitive, even exquisite, but not groundbreaking or sometimes not more that competent. Not this film, at least for this viewer.

The camera lingers around Ali, in these days the real life lover of Fassbinder. It’s him whom the camera caresses, and even if the character is weak, he is the only one whose physical characteristics are explored and enhanced by the film. Fassbinder is a voyeur, check how he frames the 2 moments in which Ali is fully naked. Lovers off-screen transpire into filmmaking. That’s great.

My opinion: 3/5

This comment on IMDb


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