Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? (1970)

This early Fassbinder is one of his most piercing works, exploring the consequence of domestic and professional stress through a series of highly-engaging conversational long takes. 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Dir. R.W. Fassbinder
1970 | West Germany | Drama | 88 mins | 1.37:1 | German
Not rated – likely to be PG (passed clean) for some violence

Cast: Kurt Raab, Lilith Ungerer, Hanna Schygulla
Plot: Herr Raab gets along with his colleagues and puts food on the table for his family, but why would he run amok?
Awards: Won InterFilm Award, OCIC Award, & Nom. for Golden Bear (Berlin)
Source: R.W. Fassbinder Foundation

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No

The first feature film to be shot in colour by R.W. Fassbinder, Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? is among the finest of his early works.  The film is also one of his most piercing endeavours as it explores the consequence of latent domestic and professional stress through the unexceptional life of one married man.

Herr Raab (a superb performance by Kurt Raab, who would appear in many more Fassbinder films) is quiet with his wife and kid, but reliably puts food on the table.  In his job as a technical draftsman, he barely speaks as well, but sort of gets along normally with his colleagues. 

However, whenever a longtime friend comes over, he doesn’t know when to stop talking.  And so does his wife, when her own acquaintance pops by the house, to his sheer annoyance. 

Hanna Schygulla claimed in a 2003 interview with Village Voice that the film was completely done by director Michael Fengler instead of co-directed by Fassbinder.

These are just among the many scenarios that Fassbinder and co-director Michael Fengler had scripted, and which were (surely) improvised by their cast.  Although the conversations are held in long takes, they are highly-engaging as they build to a shocking climax. 

Perhaps the seemingly ungrammatical movie title might tell us more about Fassbinder’s modus operandi—the use of the word ‘does’ instead of ‘did’ suggest that the scenes are as they occur in the present tense, including subtle details such as close-ups of facial expressions, body gestures, and even the tone of voice and choice of words, as the camera lingers intrusively. 

Furthermore, instead of ‘H. Raab’, the use of ‘Herr R.’ may be indicative of how sympathetic we ought to feel toward the man.  In other words, Herr R. is a man under the filmmakers’ and our surveillance as we all careen headfirst off the proverbial cliff together with him.

Grade: A-


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