The hausfrauís borderline horror before a three-panel mirror: "So this is me. Me. Me? What is that? What is that, me?" Rainer Werner Fassbinderís title not accidentally echoes one of Rainer Maria Rilkeís poems (Fear of the Inexplicable), and indeed the heroine (Margit Carstensen) experiences the spiral of "relationships repeating themselves from case to case, indescribably monotonous and unrenewed." Having just given birth to her second child, she finds herself sinking into a mysterious, debilitating, ruthlessly muted panic, which Fassbinder visualizes with throwaway wavy filters that are perfect in their banality. Her husband (Ulrich Faulhaber) is a loving but passionless man, her young daughter (Constanze Haas) canít understand the growing hysteria; the word "normal" is tossed around judgmentally, most of all by her mother-in-law (Brigitte Mira) and sister-in-law (Irm Hermann), who skulk downstairs. Feeling the void, Carstensen desperately tries to fill it: Frantic swimming sessions, Valium, cognac bottles, Leonard Cohen, a fling with a handsome, graying pharmacist (Adrian Hoven). When she spills her medication in a bathtub, the image of blue pills against white porcelain suddenly becomes a snapshot of a tangled inner cosmos -- the housewife contemplates it for a moment before running a razor across her wrist. The Vertigo dolly-zoom effect unsettles the opening domestic tableau of a family together, yet the film manages to be both more clinical and more humane than Martha: "I wanted to take my mind off the fear," the neurasthenic heroine muses on her way back from the clinic while the husband stares ahead, teary-eyed. Carstensen is put through the revolving door of institutions, one place diagnoses schizophrenia, another settles for deep depression. Only two people really see her, Fassbinder through a tightly framed second-story window, and Kurt Raab as the "sick in the head" neighbor, lost in his own abyss. The man goes the way of Why Does Herr R. Run Amok?, the housewife, now "comfortably numb," labors not to care. With Armin Meier, Ingrid Craven, and Lilo Pempeit.
--- Fernando F. Croce