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Rainer Werner Fassbinder collection vol.1

January 2008 SITE MAP   SEARCH

Beware Of A Holy Whore
cast: Lou Castel, Eddie Constantine, Marquand Bohm, Hanna Schygulla, and R.W. Fassbinder

director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

99 minutes (18) 1971
Arrow DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 3/10
reviewed by Paul Higson
Fassbinder's 1971 Beware Of A Holy Whore (aka: Warnung vor einer heiligen Nutte) is a prickly pear of a film. You can try to mentally pick it up but will repeatedly drop it. Why should we care about any of the cast and crew of 'Patria o Muerte', the film production within the film? They are an unpleasant lot after all.

The film opens with most of the cast and crew on location in Franco-era Spain while the director, Jeff Kossinsky (Lou Castel) is still in Hamburg and on the other end of a telephone, refusing to fly in, refusing to film the script. He does make the flight over and behaves the berk, not that he is alone in his petty dispositions on this set. Production downtime breeds lust and jealousies. Partners uncoupling and fucking around behind one another's back is virtually an obligation. Everyone drinks 'cuba libres' and shatter glasses on the cold tiles, an act which could be said to be in lieu of the peeling of labels from beer bottles as it is normally associated with a character not pairing off with the person they want.

At the core of the production team is a 'commune' though that is in clear collapse. Irma (Magdelena Montezuma), the actress and proposed star of the film has given four years of herself to Jeff, but he is only ready to spit her out when she still demands marriage. He slaps her and in an idea carried over from Katzelmacher two years before she, in seconds this time, exaggerates the smack into a murder attempt. He refuses to shoot the film with her on set, though he will look for any reason not to proceed with filming. The indigenous hotel staff clean up the broken glass and are insulted in a language they do not understand.

Jeff is hiding a secret. His anger and that of several others towards the locals lies in the fact that the film is shooting here only because a Spanish financier offered half the budget, and a capricious Jeff planned to shoot the film on that half a budget and use the other half only if necessary. His plan does not pan out, as the Spanish financier has pulled out, leaving him with no money but his own to start production, money that is rapidly swallowed up in film equipment hire, materials and a star, the French actor, Eddie Constantine, playing himself and in the film in production Lemmy Caution again, or a Lemmy Caution copy. Constantine is the name star in the movie within the movie, and, not a German or Spanish speaker, he appears sure of himself but uncertain of those around him. He settles down in sedate islands of self, the eye of the storm; observing the cartoons fall over one another about him. They keep their distance at first, while he awaits the inevitable starlet to come and prostitute herself to him for a rub of celebrity luck. Jeff insults his actors and crew unfairly. "Lazy bitch should do some work before she asks for money," he rants, having deliberately prevented an actress or technician from engaging and fulfilling their role.

Most of the social interaction takes place in a limited number of locations. Was the filming of Beware Of A Holy Whore based on a predicament not unlike that portrayed in the film? The characters are hyper-real and move around the large barroom floor like icons shuftied along on one of those war room tables or midfielders finger-flicked across a subbuteo board. You may not see their marks as they hit them but you can feel the chalk or gaffer tape cross as they land on it. It is an unconvincing crowd. Interestingly, but too late, the film picks up speed as the story progresses and the lengthy early scenes are replaced with shorter sequences, shots even, suddenly sprinting through developments. Pre-production takes forever. The shoot, however, is kinetic, tense, occupying, frustrating and made up of shorter episodes, short episodes that are ultimately no more satisfying, but at least momentarily, sensorily, conclusive.

For the most part it is a drip, drip, drip of inconsequentialities. The acting is as requested, overwrought. Fassbinder is good in his role as Sascha. A couple of other future nogs and legends put time in before the camera. Fassbinder star Kurt Raab is there, as are tacky horror director Ulli Lommel (in the role of assistant Korbinian) and Dick Randall. The hierarchy on set is not immediately obvious, abuse may suggest relationship of command but there are too many of them to come to know. Jeff seems affable with some, but will turn on everyone, sleeping with their partners, criticising them, firing them... an inept ringmaster counting on everyone else and yet blaming them when it doesn't work out.

Even Constantine, the star, is secretly berated. Jeff has kept a distance from Constantine for fear of offending him, to insult and lose him might jeopardise his future relationship with stars and agents. Once comfortable enough in the knowledge that he understands no German he criticises him at close quarters instructing his assistant to convey the message only while certain that she will do no such thing. Only Fred (Kurt Raab) appears to escape Jeff's petty furies and that is because Fred is emotionally unpredictable and never allows Jeff space on the perch alongside him from which to peck him. They are to a one un-likeable and their fates fall outside one's field of concern.

The Rainer Werner Fassbinder Institute have likely diluted some of the dialogue again, though far more subtly this time. In conclusion, Beware Of A Holy Whore is un-involving, certainly to anyone with life and soul. In fact, one could describe it as distancing, so you may as well stay away.

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