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Six Definitive Films: The ultimate beginner's guide to Rainer Werner Fassbinder

A visionary from the New German Cinema, Rainer Werner Fassbinder made several contributions to the world of cinema through unforgettable masterpieces such as Ali: Fear Eats the Soul and Fox and His Friends among many others. Although his career was cut short by a drug overdose, Fassbinder left behind a towering legacy of cinematic classics.

Having grown up in a world that was completely devastated by the consequences of the second World War, Fassbinder’s environment played a major role in the shaping of his artistic beliefs. Dropping out of school at an early age, he was a bonafide cinephile and claimed that “the cinema was the family life I never had at home.”

Over the course of a remarkable career, Fassbinder produced unwavering artistic achievements which are still revered and studied by film fans all over the world. His untimely demise at the age of 37 only makes one wonder about the great heights he could have climbed to if substance abuse hadn’t claimed his life.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s six definitive films:

The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972)

Featuring an all-female cast, The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant is an adaptation of Fassbinder’s own theatrical work. Set in the house of the narcissistic titular character, the film follows her as she navigates the labyrinths of inter-personal relationships.

Structured like a theatrical piece and perfectly complemented by the immaculate mise-en-scène, The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant is the perfect place to start your journey into the enigmatic world of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s singular cinema.

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974)

Probably the most famous addition to Fassbinder’s filmography, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul is an unparalleled exploration of the nature of societal prejudices. It is a brilliant analysis of omnipresent oppression, told through the story of two lovers who are divided by the rigid lines of race and age.

Commenting on his oeuvre, Fassbinder once said: “The films are very consistent in their attitude to the characters (these days I try to give each a visible, comprehensible motivation), but what grows from that depends very much on the theme.”

Fox and His Friends (1975)

Fox and His Friends is a personal favourite by Fassbinder who ventured into uncharted territory with this project. A milestone in the evolution of New Queer Cinema, Fox and His Friends chronicles the adventures of a poor gay man whose life is characterised by unreal events.

Fassbinder believed that Fox and His Friends was the first of its kind and it depicted homosexuality without any judgement. He stated: “It is certainly the first film in which the characters are homosexuals, without homosexuality being made into a problem.”

In a Year with 13 Moons (1978)

A reaction to the suicide of Fassbinder’s romantic partner Armin Meier, In a Year with 13 Moons was one of the films that Fassbinder ranked high within his own body of work. Another landmark in the history of New Queer Cinema, it tackles subjects that are still controversial today.

The film provides insights into the life of a working-class butcher who decides to make a major decision in order to act on her feelings. She undergoes a sex change and is forced to confront the various sociopolitical conflicts that follows such an action.

The Marriage of Maria Braun (1978)

Described as Fassbinder’s crowning achievement, The Marriage of Maria Braun is about a woman who wants to marry a soldier involved in the second World War. However, the geopolitical eruptions and his war struggles continue to act as an obstacle to her dreams.

According to some critics, The Marriage of Maria Braun is Fassbinder’s attempt to make a Hollywood film in Germany and it became a major success in all regards. It also solidified some of the sensibilities of the German New Wave in the minds of global audiences.

Veronika Voss (1982)

Set in Munich in 1955, the film stars Rosel Zech as a fading star who descends to new depths of neurosis under the manipulation of a sinister doctor who intends to take control of her wealth. Often compared to Sunset Boulevard, this 1982 gem is a disturbing ride.

Although stuck in the clutches of a debilitating drug dependency, she dares to dream again after falling in love with a sports reporter. One of the final works released during Fassbinder’s lifetime, Veronika Voss is an undeniable reminder of the director’s talent.