Gods of the Plague (1970)

4 02 2009

One of Fassbinder’s very best films. Like it’s predecessor, Love is Colder than Death, this is a very austere examination of passive young adults stuck in the backdrop of a crime drama. If there’s anything wrong with this film, it’s that it is a tad bit too short and (as usual for Fassbinder) ends on a slightly too tragic look. Even before his Sirk-inspired melodramas, he would tend to close things up rather tightly. It’s a shame too, since all signs point to a very open ended ending more often than not, but I can’t complain too much when the rest is simply so great.

Critics tend to divide Fassbinder’s thirteen year career into three sections. The first category displays the filmmaker at his most formally rigid. While he did dive into some shaky-cam docudrama (most of the time with Michael Fengler) his work from this era tends to represent something of a fore-runner to the “minimalistic” movement in Central and Eastern Europe. It’s quite odd that someone who became fascinated by films like All that Heaven Allows was one of the biggest influences (at least so it seems) to Bela Tarr’s latter day aesthetic. Like Tarr’s work, Fassbinder’s films from the early 70s are extremely cold, detached, but also oddly humorous.

Obviously, not everyone is prone to fall for Fassbinder’s earliest efforts. His fanbase is generally divided on which part of his career has more artistic merit. At this point, I would side myself with those that argue in favor of the more experimental early part of his career. The humor in these earlier films are reminiscent of Tsai Ming-Liang’s extremely deadpan comedic approach. The action (if you want to call it that) takes place with some distance from where the camera is located. This distance immediately creates a observational feel, just by its mere frankness. The absurdity of these characters is more visible from a distance. Fassbinder is not cynical to the point that he is being condescending to his characters, he’s just willing to point out their human-ness, more so than many of his contemporaries.

The emphasis I place on Fassbinder’s “human-ness” is slightly ironic, I suppose, since the acting in his early work (this film included) is very unnatural, bordering on mechanical at times. It’s not nearly as static as the acting in The American Soldier, which sort of a remake of this film, but at the same time, it isn’t exactly emotive. There are these occassional emotional outburst, all of which seem to come from female characters, that attempt to break the tension between the audience at the characters, but instead the tension between the characters themselves becomes all the more awkward. If you’re a fan of  narratives following passive, emotionally disturbed individuals then this is a must. Anyone else, approach with much caution.



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