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Monday, August 27, 2012

DESPAIR (1978)

If you kill your doppelgänger, is it murder . . . or suicide? That’s the overriding issue of this artfully rendered, if perplexing, film from Rainer Werner Fassbinder, working off a Tom Stoppard adaptation of a Vladimir Nabokov novel. It’s just the sort of posh international production Fassbinder might have stuck with had he been able to slow down and stop churning out his more modest film projects & mini-series. He wrote & directed more than 45 titles in little over a decade. In theory, this ‘difficult,’ often beautiful, art film should answer some questions about Fassbinder quality vs Fassbinder quantity, but his pluses & minuses don’t rise & fall in relation to budget & production schedules. They all just seem to happen at once. Here, Dirk Bogarde stars as a German-based chocolate manufacturer whose life is falling apart just as the Nazis rise to power. Desperate to get away from an unfaithful wife & his all-consuming business, he plans to disappear. What a pity that no one else sees much of a similarity between Bogarde & his chosen doppelgänger. The bare bones of the plot only hint at the tone & texture in this art house extravaganza, but Fassbinder probably erred in casting Bogarde, good as he is, in a role that constantly calls to mind his classic portrayal of Aschenbach in Visconti’s DEATH IN VENICE/’71. More morbidity is just what this pic doesn’t need. Stoppard’s script is also problematic, never quite deciding whether or not to clarify Nabokov’s themes & storyline. But physically, the film has come up beautifully in Michael Ballhaus’s recent restoration. Those mauve chocolate labels are really something. Something awful!

CONTEST: When Bogarde goes to watch a silent movie (still possible in the early '30s), Fassbinder makes a technical error in presentation. Catch the gaffe to win a MAKSQUIBS Write-Up of any NetFlix DVD.

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