Salonica’s film festival pays tribute to director Fassbinder

Twenty years have elapsed since the controversial and prolific German film director and playwright, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, died at the age of 37, and the 43rd Thessaloniki International Film Festival has organized something special to commemorate his great contribution to world cinema: the tribute «White Nights with Rainer Werner Fassbinder» and a marathon screening of his German television miniseries «Berlin Alexanderplatz.» Using trademark cinematography, Fassbinder adapted for the small screen a novel by Alfred Doblin which is set in the inter-war years and centered on a fringe community of Berlin. The series was shot between 1979-1980 and is, perhaps, the most complete work of his career. The tribute in Thessaloniki – which will also showcase other selections from his filmography – is the first of its kind in Greece. The 15.5-hour epic, «Berlin Alexanderplatz,» is composed of 13 episodes and an epilogue and is one of the few films made for television which can be compared to a feature-film production. Throughout it, Fassbinder’s signature is evident: The main character, Franz Biberkopf, displays all the traits of a typical Fassbinder hero. He struggles constantly through life in an effort to preserve his sense of self. Trying to lead what he sees as an honest existence, he is dragged down by those around him: thieves, pimps, prostitutes, killers and Nazis. Social melodrama «Berlin Alexanderplatz» is a social melodrama similar to the other 45 films Fassbinder made in his brief 17-year career. Its characters come from the fringes of society, people who are isolated and who face substance abuse and/or identity crises and who become the objects of social and emotional exploitation. Fassbinder had been fascinated by Doblin’s novel ever since his youth and he is said to have found in it many answers to his own quests of personal identity, especially regarding his homosexuality. On the eve of the first screening of «Berlin Alexanderplatz» on German television, the director is quoted as stating his absolute identification with its main character. «As I read ‘Berlin Alexanderplatz,’» Fassbinder said, «it became clearer and clearer to me with each page that… much of what I had considered to be me was nothing but what Doblin describes in the novel. «And then, at some point, because someone was writing a book about me, I saw all my films again on three consecutive days. Once more I discovered to my amazement that there were many more quotations in my work, usually unconscious ones, than I had ever dreamed. I read the novel again and came to the realization that this book, a work of art, had been decisive in determining the course of my life.» The Thessaloniki International Film Festival will be showing «Berlin Alexanderplatz» over the course of three days at the Pavlos Zannas cinema at Aristotelous Square. Starting on Friday, November 16 to Sunday, November 18 (the last three days of the festival), the series will be screened in three parts with projections starting at 1 a.m. and ending at 6 a.m., followed by breakfast for Fassbinder’s red-eyed admirers. Die-hard fans can see the series in full on Monday, November 18, in a marathon screening starting at 9 a.m. and ending at midnight. A prolific artist Rainer Werner Fassbinder was born in the Bavarian province of Bad Woroshofen in Germany on May 31, 1945. His parents divorced when he was 5 and Fassbinder was raised by his mother, who later starred in a number of his films using her maiden name, Pempeit. Early on, Fassbinder showed his fascination with cinema, attending screenings constantly to the point of abandoning his schoolwork. He dropped out of school and worked at odd jobs until he was accepted at the Fridl-Leonhard Studio in Munich where he studied drama. He joined the Action Theater in 1967 and made his debut in 1968 with the play «Katzelmacher.» His first feature film, 1969’s «Love is Colder than Death,» was booed at the Berlin Film Festival, though the film version of «Katzelmacher,» in the same year, was shown at the Mannheim Film Festival where it received the Film Critics’ Prize and the German Academy Award for Outstanding Artistic Achievement, among others. His first commercial success came with «The Merchant of Four Seasons» (1971) and his international breakthrough with «Ali: Fear Eats the Soul» in 1974, which won the International Critics’ Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. In the period between 1969 and 1976, Fassbinder also headed a number of theater productions around Germany, wrote four radio plays and acted in other directors’ films. He also turned his attention to the rise of terrorism in Germany, focusing on themes of intolerance and hatred in films such as «Germany in Autumn,» «In a Year of 13 Moons,» «The Third Generation,» and «The Marriage of Maria Brown,» and others. His last film was «Querelle,» produced in 1982. Fassbinder died that same year, on June 10, of a drug overdose, putting a dramatic end to a life fraught with personal troubles.