Fear of Fear (1975)
"You talk and talk, but what I need is help. Can't you see the state I'm in?"- Margot (Margit Carstensen)
Stars: Margit Carstensen, Ulrich Faulhaber, Brigitte Mira, Irm Hermann, Armin Meier, Adrian Hoven
Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Manufacturer: Blink Digital
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (brief nudity, lots of sturm und drang)
Run Time: 01h:28m:02s
Release Date: 2003-06-10
DVD ReviewHere comes her nineteenth nervous breakdown. This 1975 film, originally produced for West German television, is director Rainer Werner Fassbinder working in top form—it's a self-conscious homage to many Hollywood films of the 1940s and 1950s, particularly those of Douglas Sirk and Alfred Hitchcock. The genre has been derided—this is what the trades would call a "women's picture"—but it's so fraught with angst and tension that it makes for a compelling hour and a half.
Things look just perfect in the Staudte household—too perfect. Husband Kurt is finishing his advanced degree in mathematics, and he and his wife Margot have a sweet little girl, Bibi, who is 4, and another one on the way; so how come Margot seems just one little nudge away from her breaking point? That's the principal question here—she's got everything that society tells her a perfect housewife should want, but she's obviously deeply discontent. The film locks us in early to her point of view—as she looks at her world, things go from perfect clarity to a blurry mess, and right back again. It's a clever bit of camera work, and helps us to empathize with a protagonist who isn't always the most articulate about her own dilemma. ("So this is me. Me. Me? What is that, me?")
Her new baby, a bouncy little boy named Jan, doesn't comfort Margot, and she goes in search of a crutch—first Valium, then alcohol, then attempted suicide. Anything to dull the pain. Her sense of claustrophobia is only reinforced by her husband's family, who live in the same apartment building and aren't bashful about voicing their disapproval. And her husband is willfully oblivious—he wants his sleep and his television, and thinks only that Margot is making fun of him. (Her cutting rejoinder: "Why would I laugh at you? Where would I get the strength?")
Unsurprisingly Margot seeks comfort in the arms of another: the pharmacist offers kind words and ready access to his medicine cabinet. But she can't even find refuge running for the shelter of that mother's little helper; her demons will out. (The professionals tell her that she will be fine, "as long as you keep taking the pills.") As with the recent Far From Heaven, this film evokes Douglas Sirk's high period, in films like Written On The Wind and All That Heaven Allows; in some respect, there are even more affinities between this movie and another Julianne Moore film, her sequences in The Hours, a suburban mother of two so fraught with anxiety that she's contemplating downing a bottle of sleeping pills. Rear Window seems to have been on Fassbinder's mind as well, or maybe even Peeping Tom—we watch lots of scenes of people watching, and many of the shots are framed through windows and doors.
Margit Carstensen is especially good in the lead role, communicating the inner torment of this woman who isn't especially articulate about her own emotions; she's well supported by the rest of the cast, and you're likely to react with a visceral disgust to her judgmental in-laws, blithely using their own key to crash in on her, and boasting about their potato pancakes and cabbage. If you had family like this, you might resort to the cognac bottle at lunch time, too.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: The saturated images have been dulled down some by the years—perhaps the film stock wasn't that high grade to begin with—but the transfer to DVD has been done with little or no blemishes, which is a blessing.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: Things max out and your speakers will start croaking when the characters raise their voices; the dynamics of the transfer seem to be quite limited. But much of the movie is in hushed tones, and you'll hear only a very little bit of hissing.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Beware of a Holy Whore
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
- catalog of other Fassbinder titles on DVD
- insert booklet with an essay on Fassbinder's career
- DVD production credits
Extras Grade: C-
Final CommentsA controlled and highly stylized bit of work from what seems to have been Fassbinder's high and most fertile period, this one may give you the fear, but it's content and craftsmanship are likely to stay with you.
Jon Danziger 2003-07-15