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Rainer Werner Fassbinder collection vol.1

December 2007 SITE MAP   SEARCH

The Merchant Of Four Seasons
cast: Hans Hirschmuller, Irm Hermann, and Hanna Schygulla

director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

88 minutes (15) 1972
Arrow DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by James A. Stewart
Acclaimed German director, Rainer W. Fassbinder was a man who did nothing by half. He made 35 movies in less than 15 years and harboured dreams of Oscar glory, and dreams they remained at his death in 1982. One of those 35 films was The Merchant Of Four Seasons (aka: Händler der vier Jahreszeiten), an engaging film set in the 1950s, and depicting the depressing and loveless life of the film's main protagonist, Hans.

Hans is a street trader, selling fruit from the back of a cart - much to the chagrin of his class conscious, bourgeois family. His previous career in the police had been prematurely ended following a minor indiscretion with a prostitute; an incident that brought much shame on him and his family. The exploration of the Marxist doctrine on capitalism and false consciousness is prevalent throughout and makes for some interesting dialogue.

It has been said that The Merchant Of Four Seasons was a major boost to the career of Fassbinder and it is easy to see why. The droll manner of Hans is enigmatic and sets the tone for the entire film. It makes for some classic scene setting and you can't help but feel sorry for him, and even when things start to go well for Hans he becomes more depressed. Business booms thanks to the input of an old friend, but it only serves to make Hans more superfluous. Drink becomes an even bigger friend to him.

Merchant of the Four Seasons

All of this builds up to a fantastic ending that is in fitting with the Fassbinder psyche - and if you are looking for a happy ending with the hero sweeping the girl off her feet and riding off into the sunset - look elsewhere. The only criticism is that some of the scenes can seem somewhat manufactured. Giving the feeling that the character relations are a touch contrived, but this is probably more as a result of the subtleties lost in the translation from German to English subtitles than a directorial failing.

To some, The Merchant Of Four Seasons is a hateful film, filled with unhappy scenes and is a smile free zone. But that is the point Fassbinder is making. He shows the contradictory relationship between love, life, money and happiness to be nothing but a false reality. They are not intertwined and not guaranteed to happen automatically because your rich or in love. Since its release in 1972, The Merchant Of Four Seasons has attained cult status. It is gritty, rough, and at times damned uncomfortable for the viewer conditioned to expect a happy, easy on the mind and eyes picture that is diet of the Hollywood filmmaker. If you want to try a Fassbinder film this is heartily recommended.

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