Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Kurt Raab, Lilith Ungerer, Hanna Schygulla, Amadeus Fengler, Irm Hermann, Franz Maron, Harry Baer, Peter Holand, Lilo Pempeit
Written by: Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Michael Fengler
Directed by: Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Michael Fengler
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: German with English subtitles
Running Time: 88
Date: 06/28/1970
IMDB

Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? (1970)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

'Amok' Raking

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The first scene in Rainer Werner Fassbinder's mysterious, mesmerizing Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? (1970) has four co-workers telling silly, rather stupid jokes. The first four jokes pass by with nary a raised eyebrow, but the fifth one is a joke about a man strangling his wife.

That's a clue as to how the rest of the movie is going to go. It's a series of unstructured, almost innocuous scenes that could almost be arranged in any order.

In another early scene, our hero Herr R. (Kurt Raab) and his wife (Lilith Ungerer) are having a drink with a friend. The friend is played by the beautiful, playfully determined Hanna Schygulla, a familiar face in Fassbinder's work (she would go on to play the title role in his most celebrated film, the 1979 The Marriage of Maria Braun).

Schygulla's character talks about being free and single, being able to go where she wants and to do what she wants. In another Fassbinder film, the camera might follow her off to some adventure. But in this one, we never see her again.

Instead, we're plunked right down into the middle of Herr R.'s facile existence and his numbing daily problems. His son is having problems at school. He invites a boring friend over for drinks. He tries to find a record in a music shop while the teenage shopgirls quietly make fun of him.

These scenes occur mainly in long, unbroken takes; I doubt that this 88-minute movie has more than 20 individual shots. Within each, Fassbinder points his camera wherever his mood carries him.

Finally, Herr R. runs amok. It's a scene of almost shocking nonchalance, punctuated by ennui and annoyance rather than rage or violence.

Which brings us back to the title. Fassbinder continually shows us moments that Herr R. does not see; we understand that he is not particularly well liked or admired, but he may not see this. So what triggers him?

Perhaps the answer is not really in the film, which is why Fassbinder asks the audience with the title. Heaven help you if you know the answer.

DVD Details: Fantoma has released Fassbinder's film in another of their sharp, clean transfers. Extras include an interview with Fassbinder's cinematographer Dietrich Lohmann, and liner notes by Fassbinder scholar James Clark.