What’s the best film to feature Leonard Cohen on the soundtrack? I always thought McCabe and Mrs. Miller. Hard to argue with Fata Morgana. But maybe it’s Fear of Fear, which is also now one of my favorite Fassbinder films. The film reminds me of Ray’s Bigger Than Life, which in turn reminded me of Sirk’s Imitation of Life, and also of Haynes’ Safe. All make sense – Fassbinder fits neatly between Sirk and Haynes, and Ray is the consummate industry outsider.
Fassbinder regular Margit Carstensen plays Margot, a housewife who descends into some kind of drug-addled madness, perhaps partially due to her mundane upper-middle class existence.
Carsten is so great. Her angular face and perfect white teeth fit the character beautifully. There are so many times that she smiles slowly in close-up to a creepy result. The fluttering, dramatic score by Peer Raben really contributes, too.
This is Fassbinder’s style through-and-through. The saturated, decorated interiors. Margot blends right in with her couch and the vertical lines on her blouse run right along with the wallpaper:
Fassbinder starts the film with a vertigo shot as the title comes in:
As if the title itself weren’t enough, then the unwieldy combined movement, concentrated on some still tedium, certainly does the trick.
Fassbinder loves divided frames. I’m certain there are plenty of others like this – also using a lamp – in his other, mid-70s films:
He also likes that extreme foreground to really feel the camera moves. And the camera moves a lot: pulling down long hallways and panning to reframe in a new doorway; dollying to peer into a room at a new angle as a character moves. It’s elegant.
At odds with the mise-en-scene pictured above are sequences like this:
Pure white on drab wood. Margot dwarfed in that first frame. Beams looming, dangerously in the foreground. When she rushes forward the low, canted angle is unsettling.
Other Fassbinder trademarks are fully on display. Tableaus as people stare, nosy neighbors, generally high-key lighting, close quarters as representation of the stuffiness and claustrophobia of German life.
There’s, as usual, a host of his regulars, including Kurt Raab, who I’m really liking lately:
Here he’s almost entirely silent, but his worn, knowing face communicates a hell of a lot with Margot.
There’s a repeated high angle POV shot – at once point it’s framed with an unknown person’s arm in the foreground – that Fassbinder often returns to:
It’s the idea of constantly being watched, of the inability to escape. Tellingly, the film ends with Margot’s own POV, which is situated quite similarly:
She’s been “cured,” and now she becomes the watcher. Her position has been reversed. Given the subject matter of what she sees – and other context clues – it’s doubtful that this “cure” is successful and true, but Fassbinder places her back in the mix of “normalcy” by giving her the closing, voyeuristic POV.