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Rainer Werner Fassbinder on contagion

A couple of nights ago I watched “Lola,” one of the last movies made by the immensely prolific Rainer Werner Fassbinder, born in 1945 and dead at age 37. I’d seen a bunch of his movies in the Seventies, particularly liking “The Merchant of Four Seasons,” a sad sad movie of inevitability that reminded me a bit of Bresson’s “Au Hasard Balthasar.”

“Lola” is executed with great panache, and loosely relevant to economic affairs today. It’s set in a small town in the boom of 1950s West Germany, and is about contagion, the moral kind. There is a business man who does property deals that involve minor amounts of corruption and bribery for the sake of profit. There is a regulator who wants to get things done and is willing to bend the rules for the sake of the greater good, the trickle down, but is otherwise morally kind of upright to the point of extreme primness and naivete in his personal life.

The businessman, a bit like Tony Soprano, runs a whorehouse/sex club/nightclub and enjoys everything that goes with it. The vector of contagion is Lola, his mistress, who, savvy, ambitious and maltreated, temporarily seeks respectability. Eventually, the movie seems to say, you can’t confine corruption.

Lola is absorbing, dramatically filmed, has German-expressionist dramatic scenes of minor debauchery. It was inspired by Josef von Sternberg’s “The Blue Angel,” but is much more cynically concerned with politics and morals.

Based on memory, I really recommend “The Merchant of Four Season.” “Lola,” too, is very good.

Au Hasard Balthasar is so sad that I’ve avoided it several times since first seeing it at University of Pennsylvania in the Seventies. According to Wikipedia, Godard wrote of Balthasar: “… this film is really the world in an hour and a half.”




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