For Reel

The Merchant of Four Seasons (1971)
August 10, 2015, 7:26 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
4 Stars
The Merchant of Four SeasonsThe Merchant of Four Seasons begins with a brief prologue in which a mother tells her returning legionnaire son that, “The good die young, and people like you return.” It is seemingly Hans’ (Hans Hirschmüller) goal through the rest of the picture to actualize his mother’s scornful fantasy, falling deeper into despair and eventually drinking himself to death in a ritualistic fashion. One of the great things about the picture is that, although Hans is certainly an oppressed victim in his society–by his awful family, by his deceitful wife (Irm Hermann), and by the concerns of capital–he also wears the role of oppressor in several scenes, with his self-hatred manifesting in a violent beating of his wife. Director Rainer Werner Fassbinder reveled in having characters that weren’t easily categorizable, a distinction that very much removes him from his muse Douglas Sirk. The moral complexity of his characters seems attached to his filmic techniques–the long takes, the artificiality in the way his actors are often blocked. They both serve as challenges to an audience’s typical engagement with a melodrama. As much as Fassbinder involves one with a fairly conventional narrative structure and a sympathetic character at its core, he seems just as much bent on distancing audiences by subverting their expectations. In the last scene, Hans’ wife begins a new life with his old comrade (Klaus Löwitsch), but it is not a scene depicted as the fulfillment of a repressed passion, but rather as a business agreement. The icy, detached playing of this fairly typical melodramatic scenario harmonizes Fassbinder’s concern with both Sirkian melodrama and his own brand of hyperrealism.

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