Fassbinder’s comedic farce of a film is shocking, revolting, and occasionally enjoyable.
Dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder
1976 | Germany | Drama/Comedy | 112 mins | 1.37:1 | German
R21 (edited) for sexuality, nudity, coarse language, and deviant behaviour.
Cast: Kurt Raab, Margit Carstensen, Helen Vita, Volker Spengler
Plot: Walter, a German anarchist poet, is short of money after his publisher refuses to give him an advance. He also has to contend with his long-suffering wife, his fly-obsessed crazy brother, his other mistress and a police murder investigation.
Source: Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation
Subject Matter: Mature
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse
(Reviewed at World Cinema Series screening – first published 9 Mar 2013)
Truth be told, this is the first time I have seen a Rainer Werner Fassbinder film. I have heard of him before, but all I know about him is that he was incredibly prolific, tragically died young, and was often described by critics as the enfant terrible of German New Wave cinema.
Fassbinder experts will probably lament the fact that my introduction to the great, albeit idiosyncratic director, was Satan’s Brew, a film not exactly in the top-tier of his filmography, neither does it capture, at least in essence, what Fassbinder is all about.
Satan’s Brew is one of the most offbeat and downright farcical films I have seen for a long time. It is an above-average film at best, with some excellent moments showcasing comedic acting of the highest (read: insane) order.
It is enjoyable at times, though the viewer must be able to suspend him/herself from reality. The reality that is portrayed in Satan’s Brew is kind of like an absurdist and nihilistic fantasy set in an apartment in a 1970s German town.
“Lisa, I’ve been writing again. Yesterday, depression. Today, a stroke of genius.”
That apartment is occupied by bizarre characters: a man who is struggling to write poetry and spends time bedding women and taking their money; his wife who screams all the time and who demands sex; and his brother who is mentally retarded and keeps dead flies as companions.
There is no real story, just unreal characters, though I must qualify that Satan’s Brew is not exactly a study on characters. Rather, it is an experience – somewhat revolting, and somewhat carefree. It is simultaneously anarchic and fascistic, yet retaining some sort of unity in lunacy.
The screenplay, a wild concoction of profane moments, is decidedly elaborate. The entire film sees the characters intruding each other’s space, weaving in and out of the frame like a complex dance of, in this case, intertwining dialogue. There is always some kind of energy in the air, possessing the characters, albeit to great faults.
Sexuality, a common theme in Fassbinder’s works, acts as both instigator and indicator of power plays in the household, politicizing an otherwise oddball comedy cinematic farce.