Third Generation, The (1979)

A relentless if chaotic sound design intensifies this controversial ensemble drama about a group of middle-class European terrorists trying to find an impetus for action amid the lull of domestication. 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Dir. R.W. Fassbinder
1979 | West Germany | Drama/Crime | 109 mins | 1.66:1 | German, English & French
Not rated – likely to be at least M18 for explicit nudity, some violence and mature theme

Cast: Eddie Constantine, Hanna Schygulla, Volker Spengler
Plot: A group of inept middle-class German radicals—united less by their political convictions than their secretive behavior—goes underground after an unexpected event.
Awards: Official Selection (Cannes)
Source: Studiocanal

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Slightly Mature – Terrorism, Ideology
Narrative Style:  Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No

Most movies about terrorists tend to portray these nefarious people as single-minded and hell-bent in wreaking havoc on society.  But in the radical hands of R.W. Fassbinder, they become like any other human being, trying to find some kind of meaning to their listless existence. 

In The Third Generation, Fassbinder tackles terrorism through the unlikeliest of angles—domestication and seeming inaction. 

We get acquainted with a group of middle-class European dwellers who harbour extremist ideologies, yet they seem more interested in preserving their secrecy as they meet regularly in an unidentified apartment than to try to operationalise their plan, if there is even any to begin with. 

The lull of domestication intersects with the banality of intellectualism, and this is best characterised by Fassbinder’s chaotic approach to sound design—one that consists of continuous overlays of radio and television broadcasts with tape recordings. 

The result is a relentless bombardment of mostly indecipherable chatter—an aural long take if you will—that not only intensifies the ensemble drama but gives the entire film a feeling that it is operating in a frequency that no one has access to. 

A cross between Godard and Melville, but wholly a Fassbinder provocation, The Third Generation is a stylish ‘anti-noir’, and at times hilarious to boot. 

One of its most absurd sequences involves an acquaintance of the terrorists’ inner circle who pretends to suffer from a nervous breakdown in order to annoy a persistent police inspector hoping to find clues in the apartment. 

In sum, this late work should please fans already well-acquainted with the oeuvre of the legendary German auteur. 

Grade: B+


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