Thursday, May 15, 2014

Fassbinder's Fear of Fear (1975) ✭✭✭✭

Fear of Fear is an entertaining Fassbinder made-for-TV ditty that offers a skewed glimpse into German family life in the 1970s. Margit Carstensen, perennial Fassbinder favorite and a sort of Teutonic Faye Dunaway, stars as Margot; a young hausfrau and mother. For reasons that are never made clear, Margot fears she is going insane. Actually, the dreadful wallpaper in Margot’s apartment is enough to drive anyone stark raving looney, but I digress.

Margot’s paranoia begins a downward spiral in her behavior, characterized by drug abuse, alcohol addiction, infidelity and, worst of all, a complete disinterest in fresh vegetables. The film has a creepy feel leavened by melodrama as Margot is constantly bombarded by her meddling mother-in-law (Brigitte Mira) and the icy disinterest of her engineer husband Kurt (Ulrich Falhaber). For some reason, these suffering German housewives always seem to have a disinterested husband named Kurt. We follow Margot through a life-altering chain of events that starts quite small, but ultimately blooms into life-threatening issues.

We experience the horrors of socialized medicine, as Margot has one doctor who makes housecalls in the middle of the night and another who will give her any medication she requires at a moment’s notice. However those meds come at a very high moral price. The production values are no better or worse than American TV of this era - everyone seems to cast three shadows and zoom lenses are used and abused – but Carstensen’s mysterious dramatic textures do a fine job of holding our interest for the duration.

Background music is used in ways that are startling, yet strangely appropriate, and reminds us that at the helm of this pulpy potboiler is a director with unique sensibilities.  These little German TV soaps almost qualify as a distinct genre. Fassbinder, Wenders and Herzog all made a living from them, and they can justifiably be considered minor-league art films. Like homemade wine, Fear of Fear has a harsh first bite, but eventually delivers a pleasing diversion.

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