WHO is he?

Extremely prolific German screenwriter, actor, editor, producer, playwright, poet, film, television and theatre director, who, amazingly, made 40 feature films, among numerous works in other media, in a career spanning a mere 13 years. Fassbinder was a controversial figure during his lifetime and was discredited by both the Left and the Right. He won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival for Veronika Voss in 1982.

WHAT are his films about?

Themes

Fassbinder made films during a volatile period in German political and cultural history, where the nation was beset by the guilt of National Socialism, the rise of the extremist left, the increasing materialism of the middle class, rampant xenophobia and homophobia and general institutional tyranny. Fassbinder’s films dealt with all these, while incorporating the director’s own strained relationship with his crew, and examined how power is exercised within organisations both political and personal.

Style

Fassbinder was influenced by Bertolt Brecht’s theory of the theatre and his films incorporate the latter’s distancing effect in order to prevent the audience from emotionally surrendering themselves to the drama of the narrative without critical reflection. The acting in this film is flat and anti-psychological, the actor movement and arrangement measured. Large stretches are shot indoors, in cramped spaces, with impressive camera movements, often helmed by ace cinematographer Michael Ballhaus. The colours are heightened to underscore the artificiality of the film’s construction.

WHY is he of interest?

Fassbinder died partly of workaholism at the age of 37, leaving behind a vast body of rich work that still needs to be discovered in its entirety. He was one of the spearheads of the New German Cinema that revitalised the national film scene and put Germany back on the international cinema map. Fassbinder, in particular, went on to be recognised as one of the greatest artists in cinema and his work has become a staple in film and gender studies.

WHERE to discover him?

Ali: Fear Eats The Soul (1974) centres on the romance between an old white widow and a young African immigrant worker and the ensuing social rejection. The film takes off from Douglas Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows (1955) and expands and radicalises its premise even more, scanning the divides of gender, age, race, class, sexuality and nationality, to demonstrate the complex web of oppression people are woven into.