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Fassbinder DVD boxset

 
 
February 2008 SITE MAP   SEARCH

The Niklashausen Journey
cast: Michael König, Hanna Schygula, Margit Carstensen, and Michael Gordon

director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

86 minutes (18) 1970
Arrow DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Jim Steel
This early Fassbinder is a curious thing. The Niklashausen Journey (aka: Die Niklashauser Fart) is one of his most overtly political films, and in many ways it apes Jean-Luc Godard. The dialectical discourses that take up much of the script are the most obvious example, but even some of Dietrich Lohmann's camerawork seems to be lifted straight from the master's book of tricks. Unfortunately it lacks any of Godard's sense of humour.

The temporal setting is deliberately smudged, with contemporary features mingled with the late medieval source. It's based on the true story of a German peasant who, believing himself to be the reincarnation of Christ, rose up against the church. Fassbinder uses the story as an analogy for the state of late 20th century capitalism, which, it has to be said, does work remarkably well in the context of the film.

He begins with three people in a basement who are discussing the possibility of starting a revolution and the viability of a cell structure for the movement. Moving outside (there is much walking in the film), they come across the shepherd, Hans Bohm (Michael König), who bears as much of a resemblance to David Johansen of the New York Dolls as he does to Christ. The band set off to visit the bishop (Kurt Raab), who is in turn horrified when he hears of their approach. Given that he lives in a marble palace filled with lethargic, half-naked boys, one can understand his nervousness.

Naturally he decides to eliminate the shepherd. Bohm, by this time, is becoming more confused (or is that merely the viewer). The band of travellers stay for a while with a rich couple, Margarethe (Margit Carstensen) and her paralysed husband (Franz Maron), and the travellers re-analyse their approach. One of them, Johanna (Hanna Schygulla), proposes herself as a false messiah figure, and falteringly reads a script praising the benefits of materialism. To counter this, an actor playing a Black Panther reads a (presumably) real newspaper report concerning police atrocities. There is much in this vein, and consequently when the film does move into an action phase during its later stages, it starts to feel like a parody. This was obviously not the intention of the director.

It's an interesting piece, with much to reward the viewer who takes the time to watch it properly, but it is very much of its period. One can imagine that the Red Army Faction paid some attention to it when it first came out, although it does not advocate violence. There are no extras with the disc, but kraut rock fans should be made aware that the travellers attend a languidly decadent party where Amon Düü´┐Żl II give an excellent performance.
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