Influencing the likes of Ackerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels, to lots of Haneke, to the recent The Tribe, to a whole mess more, Why Does Herr K. Run Amok? is an early Fassbinder that promises the greatness to come.
Kurt Raab (played by Kurt Raab) is an obedient worker. He’s got a wife and a son, parents that are still alive, casual friends from the job, and basic ambitions to climb the corporate ladder. His days are punctuated (or maybe unpunctuated) by boring interactions. And eventually the stiffness of middle-class life gets to him.
Fassbinder shoots the film in a series of handheld long takes, one per scene. The beautiful blocking of his later films isn’t fully there, neither are the fluid camera movements, the mannered acting, the unique soft lighting that seems to reference that in Hollywood-actress-closeups.
All of Herr K. is shot in mundane locations. That’s part of the point of Herr K’s mundane existence. This early sequence is so low-budget-feeling that you can even hear the crew’s creaking footsteps as the camera moves to and from the table:
One of the highlights of the film is a drunken scene where Herr K. gives a speech to his boss in the hopes of finally getting the promotion he’s been after. It’s long and requires of us the same patience that it requires of his boss and his boss’ companions:
It’s also nerve-wracking. We really want him to stop talking, or someone to interrupt him. I think that’s one of the great things about this film. That there’s little-to-no intervention or true care on the part of anyone in the film. Colleagues joke and have a beer together but don’t know each other; Herr K’s wife and mother do the same but don’t really like each other; even Herr K. and his brother-
-talk and hang out, but it’s suffused with boredom. It’s not unimportant that so much of Why Does Herr K. Run Amok? features the main character sitting (that’s one of the reasons for the less foregrounded blocking). There’s a deep malaise over the entire film.
The end of the film is tough and rewards patience. It also has a sequence that seems to at once fulfill Fassbinder’s love for American detective films (his next film, in the same year, is The American Soldier, which really fulfills that love), and continue in the line of tedious, middle-class professions.