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Fassbinder DVD boxset

February 2008 SITE MAP   SEARCH

Love Is Colder Than Death
cast: Uli Lommel, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Hanna Schygulla, and Katrin Schaake

director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

88 minutes (15) 1969
Arrow DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Gary McMahon
Fassbinder's debut feature Love is Colder Than Death (aka: Liebe ist kälter als der Tod) begins with several heavily stylised sequences detailing a bunch of criminals going through a recruitment drive run by 'the syndicate', an organised crime fraternity. During this brutal interview, the hotheaded Franz (a brilliant deadpan turn by Fassbinder) meets Bruno (Uli Lommel), another petty criminal, and the two form an unlikely and fragile relationship. After repeatedly turning sown the overtures of the syndicate, Franz is allowed to leave. Before he goes he invites Bruno to join his gang. These early interior scenes resemble a stage play - they are sparse, claustrophobic, and help build a sense of the narrow confines these characters operate within.

When Bruno goes looking for Franz in Munich, we are presented with a wonderful scene filmed from the side window of a moving car. Cruising through the rundown streets, passing solitary figures and streetwalkers waiting on corners or at bus stops, the darkness outside is like grime covering the concrete buildings and warehouses. The scene is a lengthy one, offering us an unwavering glimpse into the sleazy world these people inhabit.

Franz is pimping his girlfriend Johanna (Hannah Shygulla) and hiding out from a vengeful Turk who is gunning for him because Franz killed his brother. The three compatriots begin to hatch a plot to murder the Turk before he can get to Franz. There's a weird atmosphere to the film, a sort of sparse existential noir, with stilted performances, drawn-out scenes where nothing much of note happens, and oddly inappropriate soundtrack music. You find yourself drawn in but you don't know why; the people are empty, they believe in nothing, yet you begin to care about the things they are doing and wonder how it will all end.

They track down the Turk in an otherwise empty café, where Bruno calmly shoots him and the only witness - an innocent waitress. The deaths are bloodless; there is a curious lack of emotion from everyone involved, including the hapless victims. Afterwards, the killers take a casual stroll through the park, where a motorcycle cop becomes the third victim. He dies theatrically, almost like a schoolboy playing shoot-em-up: he says "Oh, boy!" in English, as he crumples to the ground. Franz is questioned by the police and held for 24 hours. Upon his release the three decide to pull off a big score and rob a bank.

More people are despatched by the unflinching Bruno and his real agenda becomes clear. There's even a concession to commerciality: a surprise twist in the plot. The final 20 minutes enters the territory of a mainstream thriller, but a complete lack of traditional suspense, a comedy shootout and a rubbishy car chase subvert such generic aims. The ending is so abrupt that I thought a scene was missing from the print.

The pacing is ponderous, it is over-stylised and pretentious... and yet there are so many things about the film that are great: lovely monochrome photography, the offbeat humour, a dream-like ambience, a meandering plot, actors whose faces mesmerise you, and a bizarre sexual tension between the three leads. For some reason, films like this stay with you. They prod you in places you didn't even realise you had, and their utterly unconventional approach reaps rewards for anyone intrigued enough to take the risk.

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