Saturday, January 24, 2009

Review: Berlin Alexanderplatz


For the past three weekends, ending early this morning, I’ve been engrossed in watching all 14+ hours of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s masterful film, Berlin Alexanderplatz.

Originally made as a TV mini-series, Berlin Alexanderplatz is a devastating exploration, or explication, of the human condition, set in a marginal East Berlin neighborhood in the late 1920’s. The cast of characters present a fallen humanity in the guise of pimps, whores, and petty gangsters, all exhibiting various levels of hope and despair, as the will to do good fights an often losing battle with contingency and moral failure. (Pictured above are the film's protagonist, Franz Biberkopf, a pimp, and his last "girl," Mieze.)

The sheer scope of the thing is amazing, and only brilliant acting by a cast of European actors, with none of whom had I been previously familiar, compelled me to stick with it through sessions lasting up to three hours-plus per disk. (The DVD set consists of the feature on six disks, and a seventh disk of special features, which I did not watch.)

Anyone wanting to get serious about his knowledge of the history of cinema will need to commit the time it takes to view this masterpiece in its entirety. This Wikipedia article gives a decent synopsis of the film’s 13 episodes and concluding epilogue. This article from The New York Review of Books provides some interesting context.

Four stars.