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For, Friday, Aug. 9, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: Rainer Werner Fassbinder was a singular cinematic figure during the 1970s and into the early 1980s, and he died all too soon, in 1982 at the age of 37 from a drug overdose. A German filmmaker whose works were eccentric but often gripping, he received worldwide acclaim for several films before his biggest international hit, ‘The Marriage of Maria Braun’ in 1979. I reviewed two of his follow-up movies, ‘Veronika Voss’ and ‘Lola,’ for the Deseret News and now all three of those films are in a new Criterion Collection Blu-ray set, ‘The BRD Trilogy.’ My review of ‘Veronika Voss’ is below, published on April 8, 1983. (My review of ‘Lola’ will be in this space next week.)

“Veronika Voss” was the second-to-last film by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, the prolific German filmmaker whose work often examined the decadence of post-war Germany.

“Voss” is no exception, with its striking black-and-white cinematography, at times so bright in its design as to be near-blinding, and its odd point of view — from the eyes of a sportswriter in the 1950s who, by chance, links up with a faded movie star and becomes involved in intrigue that includes drug dealing and, eventually, murder.

But Fassbinder is not going to give us a traditional whodunit or any unexceptional narrative and simply tell a story. He dissects his characters with such fascination that it’s impossible for the audience to remain unmoved even by those that are least sympathetic.


Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Rosel Zech, 'Veronika Voss'

The sportswriter is a frumpy sort, not in the least bit handsome, yet with that Bogie or Walter Matthau charisma that catches us off-guard and somehow wins us over. And he comes into the film after we’ve met the title character.

Her first scene is watching an old movie she starred in years before, and though we do not know it at first, she is unable to continue watching because the film so closely parallels her real life at present.

Gradually we learn that her life is a façade, protecting some real tragedy, and she is being manipulated by a doctor whose nearly all-white surroundings belie her true character.

The sportswriter meets Voss in the rain when he innocently offers her his umbrella, then finds himself captivated by her, and before long he is wrapped up in her life much more than he intended.


Part black comedy, part subtle mystery, part romanticized tragedy, “Veronika Voss” is an unpredictable, spellbinding film that has a constant undertone of darkness, despite the bright lights that seem to almost constantly fill the screen.

As Voss, Rosel Zech is brilliant, lighting up the screen in a role that brings to mind Gloria Swanson’s Norma Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard.” The newsman, played by Hilmar Thate, is a closet poet, hiding a sensitivity that seems unlikely outwardly. Thate, too, is excellent in bursting an obvious stereotype and bringing depth and humanity to a character that could have been much more simple.

There is no question, however, that this is a director’s film and Fassbinder, even at the end of his all-too-brief career, was still testing his hand. “Veronika Voss” is a great, and very successful experiment.

Rated R for profanity (there is also some violence and sex that would garner a PG on its own), “Veronika Voss” is full of the standard Fassbinder elements – greed, corruption, materialism. And this is indeed a very sad film, resigned to an unhappy perception of reality, one that the filmmaker apparently was never able to escape in his own life, but which made for some stellar movies.