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The American Soldier
cast: Karl Scheydt, Elga Sorbas, Jan George, Hark Bohm, and Ulli Lommel

director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

80 minutes (15) 1970
Arrow DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Gary McMahon
Munich 3AM. A card game, a ticking clock. Porno cards, a woman painting her nails. With minimal use of dialogue it is revealed that these people are waiting for someone, someone who is important to them. The tension is palpable. Doc (Hark Bohm) is fascinated by the women that are depicted in the playing cards. Max (Jan George, I think) is losing money and bleeding sweat. The phone rings and we are told that he has arrived - meaning, of course, Ricky, the so-called American soldier.

When we first meet this titular character he throws a skinny prostitute from his car and shoots at her. The gun is firing blanks; he laughs and drives away, a bad man who doesn't give a damn. When he checks into a hotel as 'Richard Murphy', the receptionist makes a call to inform someone else of his arrival. It seems that everyone is waiting for this man.

Everything is heavily stylised, a kind of uber-noir. When Ricky (Karl Scheydt) kisses the room service girl, she enters a trance and remains locked into position, shell-shocked by the American soldier's prowess. He drinks American whisky and wears an American hat. He has just returned from fighting in Vietnam. Fassbinder appears as an older, podgier Franz Walsh, an old friend of Ricky's, who briefs him on what has happened since he went away.

As Ricky goes about his business as a hired killer, he meets gay gypsies, bent cops, a porno-selling junkie girl, and bizarre episodes unfold like a dream. Someone recites a version of Fassbinder's later film Fear Eats The Soul perched on the end of the bed while Ricky makes love to an undercover policewoman posing as a whore. When Ricky shoots the porno-selling junkie girl, and a man she has in tow, neither seem too concerned - the man simply laughs and then falls like a child playing dead. It's as if these characters exist in a weird languid world that runs parallel to our own, a place of empty bars, ugly hotel rooms and insane sexual politics. The film plays like a parody of noir conventions, yet it isn't a comedy. It often enters the realm of surrealism, occasionally becoming a David Lynchian nightmare, and the mood remains elusive and almost theatrical.

Everyone Ricky meets asks him how he did in the war, and I began to think that the entire film was perhaps a dream he was experiencing on his deathbed, an existential ghost story with its own logic and symbols. The agonisingly slo-mo final scene set in a railway locker room is among the most affecting things I have ever watched, but I'm at pains to point out why. Much like the rest of The American Soldier (aka: Der Amerikanische Soldat), it left me feeling... strange.

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