Combustible Celluloid
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With: Vitus Zeplichal, Elke Aberle, Alexander Allerson, Erni Mangold, Johanna Hofer, Katherina Buchhammer, Wolfgang Hess, Armin Meier, Erika Runge, Ulrich Radke, Annemarie Wendl, J�nos G�ncz�l, Edith Volkmann, Robert Naegele, Axel Ganz
Written by: Rainer Werner Fassbinder, based on a book by Klaus Antes, Christiane Erhardt
Directed by: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Language: German, with English subtitles
Running Time: 118
Date: 03/23/1976

I Only Want You to Love Me (1976)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Life and Debt

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Rainer Werner Fassbinder's 1976 movie was made for television and not released in the United States until 1994; it's as downbeat as the director's films ever get, but it's a fascinating cautionary tale that transcends its time.

Peter (Vitus Zeplichal) is the hapless hero, a fearful, eager-to-please soul. He begins the film by building a house for his wealthy parents, and they immediately take this gesture for granted; Fassbinder adds titles to remind us of this fact. He meets the kindly, Erika (Elke Aberle), a cute little mushroom of a girl that constantly gazes up Peter, and he manages to court her (his only true act of bravery in the film). Later, to impress his parents -- or to avoid looking foolish in their eyes -- he moves to Munich.

He easily gets a job as a construction worker, but Munich is brutally expensive, and he and Erika quickly fall behind, a situation made worse by the birth of the inevitable baby. Hence the film is a series of ups and downs, a vicious cycle in which Peter figures out ways to borrow money, then foolishly spends it on gifts for Erika when he fears that she is going to stop loving him for borrowing money.

Like Fassbinder's earlier Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? (1970), this one doesn't end nicely, and indeed Fassbinder inserts a curious clip from the final sequence, totally out of place, several scenes before it actually happens.

This is the kind of Fassbinder film I like best, the lowdown, desperate productions that rely more on guts than on production design, although it's hard to get terribly excited about a movie this depressing. Even Herr R. is quite a bit loopier and stranger; this one feels perhaps a bit more straightforward, as if Fassbinder were trying hard to make one of his beloved Sirk/Ray Hollywood melodramas.

Usually Fassbinder reserves a kind of buried sympathy for foolish, doomed characters like these, and it's a bit hard to find here. But imagine how much worse this story could have been with the availability of credit cards? Perhaps a modern-day remake is in order.

Olive Films has released this long-neglected film on DVD, along with Fassbinder's Despair. The quality is fine; as a bonus feature, it includes a new 62-minute making-of documentary.

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