For Pride Month, Watch The Films Of Rainer Werner Fassbinder Who Shows Us That In Many Ways, We Are All The Same

Posted in What's Streaming? by - June 16, 2024
For Pride Month, Watch The Films Of Rainer Werner Fassbinder Who Shows Us That In Many Ways, We Are All The Same

I can’t think of any other filmmaker who made as many films in such a short period of time as Rainer Werner Fassbinder. He completed 44 projects between 1966 and 1982, which doesn’t include the plays he wrote and directed, as well as the projects he appeared in.

His lifestyle and endless energy led to his early death at the age of 37 in 1982, but he left behind so many projects for audiences to see, and see again.

His films were complicated, provocative, emotional, and thought provoking. To this day I see people arguing about his work.

He was an openly gay man, but he was accused by his detractors of being anti-gay in his movies, but is this really the case ?

The titular character in The Bitter Tears Of Petra Von Kant (Margit Carstensen) is a fashion designer who meets Karin (Hanna Schygulla), a younger woman whom she quickly falls in love with. Karin is not gay but she enters into a relationship with Petra because she is in a vulnerable position both emotionally and financially. Petra promises that she’ll make her a successful model and claims to understand that Karin will need to have sex with men every now and then. Does this sound like a recipe for disaster? It is. This leads to heartbreak and abusive behaviour from Petra towards her family and friends as well as her loyal servant (played brilliantly by Irm Hermann) who never has a word of dialogue in the film, yet we see from her behaviour that she is completely in love with Karin, and perhaps even enjoys the abuse she receives from her.

It’s interesting that he never labels Petra as gay or bisexual. She had been married to two different men which she discusses at the beginning of the film, and she then falls in love with Karin. Fassbinder himself was gay but had been married to two women. In this film, he transcends labelling anyone’s sexuality (except Karin’s) and just deals with everyone’s human struggles.

This is essential viewing in so many ways since people often have a tendency to label others based on their sexuality, race, politics, religion, and a film like this transcends those parts of us and shows us how much we all have in common. Like Petra, we all go through heartbreak and we all have our share of flaws.

Fox And His Friends (1975), is about a working class character, Franz (played by Fassbinder himself) who meets a bourgeois group of gay men who only accept him because he recently won the lottery. Franz enters into a relationship with one of them, Eugen (Peter Chapel), and little by little Eugen takes all of his money away, and breaks his heart. Franz is in love with Eugen, but Eugen is clearly just using him for what he has. Fassbinder’s detractors felt that he portrayed homosexual men in a negative light, and labeled him as anti-gay as a result. 

This to me is simply not true. It’s true that many of the men in this film are horrible, but we also see working class gay characters in a bar Franz frequents who can’t stand the bourgeois community. This is becuase the working class gay men see that the bourgeois gay men corrupts Franz. Furthermore, Franz himself is down to earth, sweet, and innocent, but is made to feel insecure, and inhuman by Eugen who takes advantage of his insecurities. Showing flaws in people shows their humanity. The film is essentially about class, and human relationships.

Fassbinder said of the film, “This film is interesting because it’s the first film to deal with homosexuality without making it into a problem. It was important for me, without portraying it as a problem. The story is quite normal.”

The most controversial of these three films is In A Year Of 13 Moons (1978), which is about a transwoman Elvira (Volker Spengler). She has a sex change operation in order to win the love of a man who said once to her “if only you were a woman”. The film deals mostly with identity and the fact that Elvira  doesn’t know who she is and how she’s searching to find herself. What she comes to learn from a nun who helps raise her at an orphanage was that the other nuns would only give her love when she gave them what they wanted.

Being abandoned as a child and constantly trying to win people’s love over by doing whatever they wanted has led Elvira to depression, suicidal thoughts, as well as an abusive relationship.

I think it’s fair to say that portraying a trans woman as someone who perhaps actually isn’t really transgender can be harmful to that community since they are unfortunately stigmatised. A debatable percentage of people who come out as trans do detransition, and one can interpret Elvira’s action as reflecting their individual choices as opposed to one that reflects the entire trans community. 

However, Fassbinder in this film transcends limiting a person to their gender, and shows us a human being who is suffering. How many of us have tried to win the love of others over by not being ourselves? How many of us have been abandoned, depressed, abused, suicidal and confused like Elvira has been? I’d gather most of us, and so once again Fassbinder shows us how much we all share as human beings.

Fassbinder explored many subjects, and his films often end in tragedy. He once said, “Everything you do is compiled from your experiences”. Fassbinder was not afraid to show who he was in his work. He was a fearless artist, a non-conformist, a social commentator, and a brilliant storyteller.

For Pride month, or any month, watch the films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who shows us that in many ways we are all the same. You can see all of these films on the Criterion Channel.

This post was written by
Robert is an Actor, Acting Teacher and has a Video Podcast dedicated to exploring how stories are told on film! Robert is a graduate of George Brown Theatre School’s certificate program and of The New School of Drama’s two-year diploma program. He also trained at The Actor’s Temple in London, England. Some credits include Private Eyes (TV Series) Robbery (Feature Film On Amazon Prime), Mariner (winner, 10 Best Short Films of Canada, TIFF, 2016), Moose On The Loose (Magnus Theatre), My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, The Next Scorsese (short film), Anna (short film, winner of numerous film festival awards). As an acting coach and teacher, Robert runs his own workshops, and has taught at Fraser Studios and Improv Your Acting Studio. Robert has been a cinephile for many years and has always been fascinated by all kinds of movies. He feels that educating people on the importance of how movies reflect our lives is essential. Films open up our hearts, minds and sense of empathy and nothing is more valuable than that! The worst thing you can say to Robert is "It's Just A Movie". Follow me on Letterboxd @RBellissimo X/Twitter - @RBatthemovies Instagram - @RobertBellissimoAtTheMovies Facebook - www.facebook.com/RobertBellissimoAtTheMovies
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