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Love is Colder Than Death

Love is Colder Than Death (1969)

Rainer Werner Fassbinder

The style of this film is unlike any that came before or after. R.W. Fassbinder openly embraced his love of Noir and French New Wave to make a shadowy burst of a film that takes a bumpy boat ride full of moments of manic ferocity and quiet meditative looks behind the eyes of the characters. However, like the rest of Fassbinder’s films, and what sets him apart from other filmmakers, is the lack of calculation in his portrayal of the characters and situations. He embraces the inherent absurdity in life and art, the unpredictable splashes of life which on the surface makes the film seem absurd at times, but like his other films, it’s a more honest and direct look at life than we even realize.

The film follows Franz, Johanna, and Bruno, three small-time criminals trying to make the typical big-time score, and leave the petty life behind. That is where all typical notions of a crime drama end. The film casts an unwavering light on three characters, who wriggle and writhe in their desperation – it is never about the heist the three so vaguely put together. Fassbinder chooses instead to anxiously examine the characters themselves. He prods his characters’ wounds with curiosity throughout the film, as we watch their pain and frustration break through the seams.

The motivations of all three are written quite clearly in their eyes: Franz, with his wildly unattainable dreams of grandeur; Johanna, her eyes always sad, conjuring up fantasies of love, and family, leaving everything behind; and Bruno, clod-blooded and empty. Fassbinder so eloquently details these motivations in long. meditative shots of the three; nothing is said, only examined, like samples under a microscope. Everything we see of the three is tinted with doubt, their failures, and the inevitability of their lives. It’s as if we are watching a slowly developing train wreck, but rather than build up the wreck to come, we are focused on the rusted beauty of the trains themselves.

In the end, three characters are bluntly reminded of their seemingly inescapable fates, ending in some form or another, where they began, or exactly where we knew they would.

James Merolla