Thursday, October 19, 2006


AKA, in Englisch, as Satan's Brew. This is Fassbinder's 28th of the 41 total films he amassed in his still all-too-brief career, and for my money it's the funniest and sunniest of the whole lot of them. Perhaps even his best, perhaps because, althought there's a lot of murder, sadomascism and other forms of mayhem, there's no suicide. Whew! What a relief, after Fox and His Friends, Veronika Voss, Fear of Fear, In a Year with 13 Moons and Berlin Alexanderplatz, not to end up swinging from the end of a rope or with a stomach full of pills, or whatever. I'd write a synopsis, but this guy Jim has already written such a fine one that I'm just going to steal his.
Satan's Brew is not for the faint of heart! It is about Walter Kranz (Kurt Raab), a womanizing would-be "great writer" who scrambles for every pfennig he can lay his greedy little hands on. He lives with a totally batty brother named Ernst (Volker Spengler), who is forever capturing and trying to fornicate with flies (yes, houseflies), and a dumpling of a wife, Luisa (Helen Vita), the only relatively sane character in the film, yet one who keeps scrupulous count of how many days Walter has not had sex with her. No wonder, since he is constantly getting it on with the wealthy masochist Irmgart von Witzleben (Katherina Buchhammer) – whom he accidentally shoots while she is in the throes of passion writing Walter a huge check for his kinky services; his Marxist mistress Lisa (Ingrid Caven), whose husband Rolf (Marquard Bohm) collects the fee for each assignation; Lana von Meyerbeer (Y Sa Lo), a high-class hooker with shady connections and a penchant for knitting whom Walter is using, as he tells his wife, "for research on a book;" and a groveling groupie, Andrée (Margit Carstensen), who worships "the great poet" like a god. With so much turmoil, and nonstop sex, Walter's two-year stretch of writer's block is more than understandable: Where would he find the time? Suddenly one day, after unconsciously scribbling down a poem about an albatross, he imagines himself the reincarnation of its actual author, Stefan George, the nineteenth century gay German poet and aesthete. So taken with this "mystical" bond (which we see as an obvious case of unconscious plagiarism), the über-heterosexual Kranz acatually tries to become gay, like George. He even hires a circle of handsome young man – costumed in nineteenth century garb – to fawn over him, and a muscle-bound hustler to pose in a "classical" toga. Throughout the film, he is dogged by Lauf (Ulli Lommel), a detective investigating the murder of Irmgart von Witzleben (yet he is willing to stop his search when the Krantzes make him an offer he can't refuse: "I won't say no to a footbath!"), even as the wild bunch of characters surrounding Walter grows ever more manically out of control. The film climaxes with not one, not two, but three surprise endings, one of which is genuinely poignant, and the other two dead-on hilarious.
And, boy, are they ever surprises. And nudity, and violence, and madness in spades. So be warned: while it's plenty funny, it's also plenty disturbing. Here is the quotation from Antonin Artaud at the beginning of the movie: "What differentiates the heathens from us is the great resolve underlying all forms of belief not to think in human terms. In this way, they are able to retain the link with the whole of creation, in other words, with the godhead." Food for thought, anyway.


Blogger Big Jon, Bully said...

What about La Balance?

6:36 PM  

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