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Fantoma Films presents
Pioneers in Ingolstadt (Pioniere in Ingolstadt) (1970)

Berta: "I think we've forgotten something important. We forgot love."
Karl: "Love's not necessary."

- Hanna Schygulla, Harry Baer

Review By: Jeff Ulmer   
Published: November 01, 2001

Stars: Hanna Schygulla, Harry Baer, Irm Hermann
Other Stars: Rudolf Waldemar Brem, Walter Sedlmayr, Klaus L–witsch, Carla Egerer, G¸nther Kaufmann, Burghard Schlicht, G¸nther Kr””, Elga Sorbas
Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Manufacturer: IFPI
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (adult themes, violence)
Run Time: 01h:27m19s
Release Date: July 10, 2001
UPC: 014381088625
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B-B+B+ D+

DVD Review

Looking through his credits as an actor, writer (theatrical, film and TV), director and cinematographer, one wonders when Rainer Werner Fassbinder ever found time to sleep during his short, but prolific career. Heralded as the major force behind the New German Cinema, he is credited with directing over 40 films in the 12 years prior to his death in 1982 by overdose at the age of 36. Collaborating with a stock company of actors and technicians, he formed the Anti-Theater in 1968, where he wrote and directed plays, and began producing feature films in 1969, drawing on the philosophy of Bertolt Brecht and his use of theater as a forum for social commentary. By developing methods that optimized his production time, he was able to fund his early projects by winning government grants. Over the next four years he would write and direct a staggering 11 films, utilizing minimalist techniques inspired by the likes of Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Marie Straub, and while gaining critical acclaim, mainstream audiences found them too demanding. The last of these, a made-for-TV adaptation of Marieluise Fleisser's play, Pioneers In Ingolstadt (Pioneere In Ingolstadt), would mark a turning point in Fassbinder's career, causing the demise of the Anti-Theatre (an event he would satirize in Beware of a Holy Whore), but also gaining him accolades at Cannes and the New York Film Festival. Shot in just two weeks, it serves as a bridge from his past into his later work, which was more heavily influenced by Hollywood and particularly the melodramatic stylings of German ÈmegrÈ Douglas Sirk (All That Heaven Allows, Written On The Wind).

The town of Ingolstadt heralds the arrival of an army core of engineers, which has arrived to construct a new bridge. The soldiers, or pioneers as they are referred to, spend their daylight hours laboring, and their nighttimes drinking, fighting and chasing the town women. Two domestic servants, Alma and Berta both see the pioneers as an opportunity, but with very different goals in mind. Alma (Irm Hermann) sees them as a way to earn money by prostituting herself, much to the disgust of the other women in town, while Berta (Hanna Schygulla) is looking for love, while deflecting the affections adorned on her by her employer's son, Fabian (Rudolf Waldemar Brem). The men see these women as nothing more than something to pass their time, with no thought of romantic involvement, and useful only for fulfilling their sexual whims. With no war to fight, they have to look for excitement, either getting drunk in the local taverns, or cruising the streets for someone to beat up. The local park serves as a meeting place for the men and women, with their intimate encounters taking place just off the pathways in the dark. Here, Berta meets Karl, a narcissistic young engineer, but has reservations due to fear of losing her virginity. She becomes romantically attached to Karl, despite his aloofness, and total disinterest in anything but himself, or a fleeting and meaningless sexual adventure. Alma, on the other hand, takes up with anyone interested, boasting her sexual prowess as justification for compensation. As both women look for their own version of fulfillment, work on the bridge continues, and while it brings the rest of the world closer, it also deepens the void between desire and happiness.

Pioneers In Ingolstadt utilizes a number of deliberate stylistic effects, relying on many long takes using only a master shot evoke an almost theatrical sense of staging, with cuts only during transitional segments. These are juxtaposed with more traditional cut dialogue sequences. Camera movement also plays an important part during long takes, as one narrative slowly pans back and forth across a painting between its two subjects, while another tracks at a diagonal as its characters walk along a road. The predominance of night scenes also allows the spotlighting of characters, who Fassbinder often floats in a frame of blackness. The use of long shots in these scenes add to their detachment and voyeuristic quality. There is also ample use of establishing a master shot, then zooming into the frame, rather than cutting to close-up. While many of these techniques may have been more due to budget than anything, they do create a distinct atmosphere in the film, and greatly add to its interest.

I don't know that I could say anyone really comes out ahead by the end of the picture. Despite having sex as a central subject, most is left to the imagination offscreen, with only the tension and interaction of the set-up being revealed to the audience, and what little intimacy is seen onscreen is hardly erotic in nature. Character development is limited to the female leads, with their male counterparts taking fairly preset and stagnant roles. There is more exposition as the film develops, but the depth of their characters isn't much of a focus. Instead, the men are used as something for the women to play against, aside from the few scenes where the relationships and social structure of the males is established. This will not suit all tastes, and does contains some fairly brutal violence. In the end, I found this more interesting for its style than its substance, but worth the effort, but given the subject matter, mileage will vary.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: While the opening credits had me worrying due to the amount of overly sharp grain, things get better a few minutes into the film. Shot on 16mm, there is some grain, but it renders naturally. With most of the film occuring at night, the importance of the black levels can't be over emphasised, and here it succeeds. Colors are not overly vibrant, and exterior daylight scenes tend towards whatever natural hues were present, which is generally green or blue, due to the lighting used. This could have become very murky due to the number of dark scenes, fortunately this is not the case.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: Mono audio is well represented, with only one or two pops that stand out. There is some hiss present, though it isn't glaring. Frequency range is slightly limited, and sibilants tend to be a little overdominant.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
Packaging: other
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: A Fassbinder filmography is included, listed in three columns with the release date centered between German and English versions of the titles. The order presented is somewhat confusing, given the director's prolific nature and the number of films released in a given year, the chronological order doesn't coincide with listings I found elsewhere. In Fassbinder's case, the day of the month would be more helpful than just the year of release.

An essay on the film is also included, which provides some welcome background to the director and the film. Menus are nicely themed animations using elements from the film.

Extras Grade: D+


Final Comments

Those familiar with Fassbinder's work will find this an interesting bridge between his early work and his more familiar later style and content. I suspect the minimalist style and slow pacing may put off more casual viewers.


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