Gods of the Plague (Rainer Werner Fassbinder / West Germany, 1970):
(Götter der Pest)

A lateral pan escorts Franz Walsch (Harry Baer) out of jail, a Wellesian trick at the pub counter fills half the screen with Margarethe von Trotta’s face while the drifter reaches for the phone in the background, "One More Time" in the jukebox for desolate dancing -- an iconic opener for Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s sequel-remake-anagram of Love Is Colder Than Death, and further film-noir deliberations en route to The American Soldier. The reunion between Baer and Hanna Schygulla is seen reflected on a mirror, as befits a cut-rate nightclub named "Lola Montes"; Schygulla pulls a Dietrich act under the caustic spotlight, but by the roulette table she resembles one of the Gish sisters, and there you have the breadth of the filmmaker’s female (or, simply, human) portraiture. The brooding hero visits his family, cops are on his trail. His brother turns up dead courtesy of the Gorilla (Günther Kaufmann), who joins Baer and von Trotta in a short-lived bucolic sanctuary before they decide on a late-night supermarket robbery. Fassbinder lets the neurasthenic rhythms fall where they might, the narrative disengages from itself and gives way to bits of astringent drollery: Baer fiddles with his stache against a blank wall then crouches on the floor to listen to a children's rhyming record in its entirety while his girlfriend searches the cupboards for ravioli. Carla Egerer is a porn-peddling informant, Ingrid Craven and Schygulla find an instant of surreptitious tenderness, the dialogue is musical in its terseness. (At a poster store: "One King Ludwig." "A lovely man." "Ja." "Twenty marks.") The trio eats dinner under the gaze of a wall-covering glamour poster ("Have a Cool Blonde Harp"), von Trotta is smacked for suggesting to whore herself to keep the men away from the holdup -- all the bullets of the climax don’t sting as much as that slap, the Fassbinder touch. With Jan George, Lilo Pempeit, Marian Seidowsky, Micha Cochina, Yaak Karsunke, and Hannes Gromball. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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