The perils of drug addiction meet with the allure of a faded Third Reich star in Fassbinder’s evocative and fatalistic penultimate film.
Dir. R.W. Fassbinder
1982 | West Germany | Drama | 104 mins | 1.78:1 | German & English
Not rated – likely to be at least NC16 for some sexual and drug references
Cast: Rosel Zech, Hilmar Thate, Cornelia Froboess
Plot: Faded film star Veronika Voss becomes a drug addict at the mercy of the corrupt Dr. Marianne Katz. After meeting journalist Robert Krohn, the woman begins to dream of a return to stardom.
Awards: Won Golden Bear (Berlin); Won International Critics’ Award (Toronto)
Source: Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation
Subject Matter: Slightly Dark – Drug Addiction
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse
Viewed: Criterion Blu-ray
A winner of the Golden Berlin Bear, an award that had eluded him for quite some time and which he received four months before his unexpected passing at only age 37, Veronika Voss is one of the most visually striking films of his prolific career.
Shot in high-contrast black-and-white that evokes the spirit of old, silent cinema with a touch of noir, the film has its main titular character—who used to be an acting celebrity during the Third Reich, but whose star has now faded as Germany recovers postwar—mention that lighting is very important in cinema, especially for an actress.
Fassbinder, of course, takes the cue, and in several scenes, gives Veronika her dazzling and exquisite due.
“You’ve given me a great deal of happiness.”
“I sold it to you.”
After a sports journalist chances upon her drenched in the rain, they develop a romantic relationship that would become as toxic as the drugs that have consumed her.
An expose on the perils of drug addiction and the nefarious doctors that keep their patients wanting for more, Fassbinder’s film is also steeped in a sense of fatalism, a kind of Sunset Boulevard with a historical inflexion.
The Nazis are gone, but the psychosomatic trauma remains. As Germany rebuilds, its people, many losing out in the economic race, while others take advantage to accrue more wealth and power, find themselves in a moral quandary.
While in my opinion not as outstanding as Maria Braun, Veronika Voss remains a key late work of Fassbinder’s filmography.