Going through Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s filmography, I find his 1971 melodrama, “Der Händler der vier Jahreszeiten” [Eng. Title: The Merchant of Four Seasons] a beautifully ‘designed’ piece of cinema, albeit a highly stylised one. You won’t find conventional realism portrayed here, far from it – it’s as if Fassbinder had conducted a Pulcinella using his actors – puppets held by strings to recreate his own little world. I use the word ‘designed’ because it is magnificently conceived and produced, almost Bergman-like in detail, but with Fassbinder’s own vision. One could also see strong influences from his theatrical background, the film could just as well work as a conventional play.
The story itself is simple – about a man’s longing for acceptance by society for who he is, more importantly by his airs-and-graces middle-class mother – she is even embarrassed to tell anyone what her son Hans does for a living – a street hawker selling fruits. The condescension heaped upon him by all around only add to his insecurities, to the point of despair, and eventual depression.
I agree this all sounds horrible, but Fassbinder succeeds in forcing us to look at the protagonist’s anguish objectively rather than emotionally, by creating a disassociation between Hans and the audience. He achieves this by making his cast give toned-down, almost wooden performances, that we never get to connect with, and end up watching their plight in a detached manner. His theory, I presume, is that while it is important to get to see someone from their perspective, it is also important to know how a detached world would view their circumstances. The family members, baring Hans’ sister Anna, also prescribe to the same viewpoint.
Technically, it is splendid – for such a prolific film maker (Fassbinder made forty three full-length films in a career spanning just fifteen years, no mean achievement), to pay so much attention to detail – set arrangement, angles, lighting, composition, and even the editing, in addition to writing it in the first place, is simply mind-boggling. Here was one man possessed, it’s as if Fassbinder foresaw his own early death, and wanted to bequeath as many unique works to humanity as possible before then. To surmise, if you want to watch something challenging and unique, and love cinema, you should give this a try – just allow enough time to let it sink in. Highly Recommended Viewing..!
The Arrow Films DVD from which this compilation was made, came with an excellent quality transfer, and also includes goodies like fascinating and revealing interviews from the actresses in this film – held 10 years after Fassbinder’s death, and also a feature-length retrospective of Fassbinder’s filmography. Great value for money.