Thursday, June 19, 2008

Why Does Herr R. Run Amok?

Fassbinder's Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? will be an excellent companion film to Michael Haneke's The Seventh Continent. Of course, someone has to be brave enough to watch the two together in a double bill. Like in the Haneke's film we see a series of episodes in the life of Herr Raab (Kurt Raab), a young man in his thirties with a wife and a son who works as a draughtsman in an architectural firm, before he runs amok and commits a random act of violence which, cataloguing the numbing routine of modern social and corporate life as the rest of the film does, comes across as cathartic not just for Herr R but for the audiences too, which makes it all the more disturbing.

There are some beautiful subtle touches in the film. Like the scene in which Raab says that drawing windows is what really interests him. Alas, all we see is him drawing the walls! There is also the final scene in which one of their neighbours relates the story of her skiing trip in mind-numbing detail, which ultimately provokes him to commit random violence. I was in the exact same situation not so long ago actually, of course I didn't bludgeon anyone to death though I did feel like taking some drastic step. In fact all the episodes in the film are wonderfully done. Raab's trip to the school to meet his son's teacher, His coffee breaks with his office mates, His hilariously inept attempt at spouting empty banalities himself at an office banquet - all these will strike very close to most viewers of the film, even more to the contemporary viewer as things have only gotten worse over the years.

Alienation, death of affect and coldness of life in modern urban societies are quite common themes in modern cinema. What makes Fassbinder's (and Haneke's) vision so extraordinary is their willingness to take the situation to its logical extremes however horrifying it can be and however uncomfortable it can make the viewer feel. It is like Antonioni with a Grand Guignol finish.

There is a great essay on the film on reverse shot website (though again a bit riddled with hyperbole.)

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