…or, Death of a Samourai
Opens with bunch of tough guys getting beaten up, one at a time, by pro gangster Bruno. They’re indie thugs being intimidated to join the local criminal syndicate. I can’t tell if asshole/pimp Franz (our round-faced director) eventually joins or why Bruno teams up with him – the movie is short on explanation – but those two and Franz’s girl Joanna (a frequently topless Hanna Schygulla) go on a crime spree.
In the most amusing scene, they stop at a department store, torment a shop girl and steal sunglasses, after which Bruno looks like he’s doing a Le Samourai impression. Bruno likes to brag about past crimes, and they end up killing a lot of people, especially for a movie in which nothing ever seems to be happening. It’s a gangster movie so inevitably it ends in a shootout, though I’m actually confused as to who kills Bruno, or why he was asked to kill Johanna (but doesn’t). Franz’s last word to her is “whore”, and as they drive away and presumably don’t live happily ever after, the scene slowly fading to white.
Fassbinder’s first feature and the filmmaking is bizarre, with long-held shots then abrupt editing. Sometimes the music sounds like a TV theme song, once it seems to overlay opera with some quavering sci-fi noise which the characters are shopping. One long nighttime shot out the side of a car, flying past dull buildings barely visible, gave me flashbacks to The Bridegroom, The Comedienne, and the Pimp (also starring Fassbinder).
Besides the Samourai and the overall mood of a disaffected early Godard piece, a few more cinema references and dedications: Erika Rohmer is the name of a waitress they kill along with their rival gang member The Turk. Bruno was Ulli Lommel, regular Fassbinder star and director of cheap, poorly-reviewed films based on true killings throughout the 2000’s. This won a couple of German Film Awards, and played the Berlin fest alongside The Bed Sitting Room, Greetings and Midnight Cowboy.
Other first-time filmmakers might have been discouraged by the response Love Is Colder Than Death received at its Berlin Film Festival premiere in June 1969. Not Fassbinder. Though jeered at onstage by an audience put off by his film’s distant, clammy aesthetic, he clasped his hands and shook them over his head in a gesture of victory.