Friday, June 27, 2008

The Merchant of the Four Seasons

The Merchant of the Four Seasons (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1972) [8]

Fassbinder's dramas of the human condition are almost always steeped in Sirkian melodrama and yet, he somehow manages to not make them feel cheesy but vital in some way. In this film, which follows the travails of Hans (Hans Hirschmuller), a fruit vendor as he deals with his overbearing middle class family, honorable yet straying wife, and a past that he just can't leave behind. With this film, as well as some others, notable Fear Eats the Soul, Fassbinder shows such precision with getting the right emotional details out of his performers. A simple story such as this works because Fassbinder has such a compassion for a character such as Hans but is not afraid to show him suffering and, ultimately, fail in a pursuit of a happy life. The film really hinges on a theme found in Sirk, the idea of forbidden love, but it is never the focus of the film. Fassbinder is more concerned with showing the ramifications of the idea. Hans clearly cares for his wife, but even she realizes by the end that his heart has always belonged to another women. His middle-class family, who constantly criticize him in his career decisions, only help drain all the dreams that Hans once had. It certainly comes as no surprise that Hans should meet a less than ideal end after one devastating blow after another. It's too easy to call the film an overwhelming downer because even though it may be, it also directly addresses the hopes and dreams of the human condition. And while it may not meet a certain conclusion, the film makes you feel for Hans, which is all you can ask for.

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