BluRay/DVD Reviews

RAINER WERNER FASSBINDER’S BRD TRILOGY

By • Sep 30th, 2003 •

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Criterion Collection

THE MARRIAGE OF MARIA BRAUN 1979.
120 mins. Color. 1.66:1 aspect ratio.
With: Hanna Schygulla, Klaus Loewitsch, Ivan Desny.

VERONIKA VOSS 1982.
104 mins. B&W. 1.78:1 aspect ratio.
With: Rosel Zech, Hilmar Thate, Cornelia Froboess.

LOLA 1981.
115 mins. Color. 1.66:1 aspect ratio.
With: Barbara Sukowa, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Mario Adorf.

This is a handsomely produced 4-disc boxed set, and while Fassbinder’s work has varied greatly, and is offputting to many (me included), moreso than that of contemporaries Werner Herzog and Wim Wenders, this trilogy is not at all offputting. They are three stylistically different films, all of them well made, not draggy as some of his work has been, and spun into a tight web of interdependence by Criterion’s supplemental overview.

Fassbinder had a statement to make, about the generation following the defeat of Germany in WWII, about their startling economic recovery and equally bewildering cultural memory loss. Seeing one of the films by itself – VERONICA VOSS, for example – I wouldn’t have gotten that this was the subtext. But in tandem with the others, and with three meaningful commentary tracks, it all comes together. On VOSS, film critic/author Tony Rayns contributes useful insights about the film and the director, and what astounded me equally was the quality of the commentary session – it’s the best sound I’ve ever heard on one of these occasions, deep and resonant, so much so that after it was finished I wanted to hear it again, like a CD produced by Daniel Lanois.

MARIA BRAUN has Wim Wenders and Michael Ballhaus on the second track, and LOLA’s commentary track features film scholar Christian Braad Thomsen. There are interviews with the three actresses featured in the films, and an important 49-minute interview with the director himself, made for German Television. In addition there’s a feature-length documentary of Fassbinder’s life and career, I DON’T JUST WANT YOU TO LOVE ME. These, and more, are on a fourth disc within the sturdy white jacket. A 52-page booklet has been fit snugly in there, as well, about the width of one of the four DVD sleeves, supplying additional reading material about the trilogy.

Fassbinder died not too long after making VERONIKA VOSS, in 1982, at age 37. Many (including himself) compared his films to those of Douglas Sirk, another director getting belated recognition thanks to the endeavors of the Criterion Collection. But I find that he’s used Sirk as a departure point here, and that these films are more disjunctive, more complex both narratively and visually, and far less melodramatic in the Sirk/Hollywood sense. Fassbinder made 60 films in 13 years, and I’ve been unlucky with the ones I’ve caught up with, that is until now. I’m thrilled to see a director’s career polished to a fine hue in one boxed shot.

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