Rainer Werner Fassbinder made his feature-film début through the crime drama “Liebe ist kälter als der Tod” [Eng. Title: Love is Colder Than Death]. It’s an endearing ode to the French New Wave, Hollywood Film Noire, and Italian Spaghetti Westerns. It was also the beginning of a life long collaboration in feature films with his muse – the talented and fabulous Hanna Schygulla.
A romantic crime thriller with a straightforward plot, the film cynically depicts the fate of a low-life couple living in Munich; Franz (RW Fassbinder) is a pimp, in frequent brush with the law, and Joanna (Hanna Schygulla) – his girlfriend, and a prostitute herself. They’re in love. Franz is paid a visit by Bruno (Ulli Lommel), a thug that he befriended while being interrogated by ‘the syndicate’, where he had spurned their demand to work for them – he’d rather be his own boss. Unbeknown to him, Bruno had agreed to work for the syndicate, and his visit is to influence Franz, through friendly persuasion, into carrying out the syndicate’s orders. It’s a task that Bruno finds only too easy to accomplish – Franz has been so accommodating as to even allow Bruno to share his girlfriend during his stay. Joanna however, isn’t particularly bowled over by Bruno, an affront that’ll lead him to secretly plot her death. But Joanna hatches a cunning plan of her own to save herself and her beloved Franz…
There’s ample evidence in the film of Fassbinder’s influences from other great directors, notably Godard, Chabrol, and perhaps even Antonioni. There is also a hint of his past background in theatre, especially in the indoor scenes. The set design is as minimalist as can be – some scenes have nothing but an empty room and a chair, and on at least a couple of occasions, you have the cast acting out in front of a plain wall. As Spartan as it may appear, the film succeeds nevertheless in depicting the alienation of the protagonists, a theme which Fassbinder would refine in his later films. While there are aspects of film-noire in the screenplay, the cinematography is anything but, preferring instead the formal compositions of a Bergman melodrama, beautifully executed. The film gives notice to the world of a new master in the making. Highly Recommended Viewing..!
The Nudity: Hanna Schygulla
The beautiful and über-classy Hanna Schygulla may not have had the opportunity to showcase her famed versatility as an actress that much, but appears nude in at least three scenes, including one where she’s seen mending a blouse that she’d just been wearing – she later answers the door topless when a client comes visiting.