17 Films to See This Weekend: Fassbinder, Tarkovsky, Visconti + More

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Sundays may be a “wan, stuff shadow of a robust Saturday” or a day of “forced leisure for folks who have no aptitude for leisure,” but a weekend is still a weekend. The pleasure of a Friday night, the knowing the burdens of work week have a brief respite carry themselves into the following two days of leisure, and what better way to indulge in that leisure than heading to the cinema.

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***FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 14***

DESPAIR, Rainer Werner Fassbinder
The Film Society of Lincoln Center

A film of many firsts for Fassbinder: his first English-language feature, his first film with a top-billed international star (Dirk Bogarde), his first big budget (costing more than all of his previous movies combined), and his first film in which he had no hand in the screenplay. Fortunately, the words weren’t a problem, as playwright Tom Stoppard adapted the story from Vladimir Nabokov’s novel. In a stunning characterization, Bogarde is Hermann, a Russian émigré who manages a German chocolate plant as the Nazis are rising to power. His two problems—a desperate need for money and a loosening grip on reality—lead him to concoct a life-insurance scheme involving a drifter whom he believes is his doppelgänger (though it’s clear to everyone else that he isn’t). Michael Ballhaus’s camera movements are as elaborate and exuberant as Stoppard’s words, making for one of Fassbinder’s most riveting achievements.

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IN A YEAR OF 13 MOONS, Rainer Werner Fassbinder
The Film Society of Lincoln Center

Volker Spengler, a Fassbinder mainstay, gives the performance of a lifetime as Elvira, née Erwin, a transsexual searching for love in Frankfurt and finding only rejection. Conceived in secret and abandoned by his mother, Erwin grew up in a Catholic orphanage and fathered a child while still a teenager. Working in a slaughterhouse, he fell in love with Anton (Gottfried John), a ruthless concentration camp survivor, whose offhand remark “too bad you aren’t a girl” sends him to Casablanca for an operation. Upon returning he finds that Anton does not reciprocate his feelings. Made in response to the suicide of Fassbinder’s own lover, actor Armin Meier, the film is arguably Fassbinder’s most compassionate, a heartrending portrait of isolation and splintered identity.

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KILL YOUR IDOLS, Scott Crary
Nitehawk Cinema

Scott Crary’s documentary Kill Your Idols is a sweeping look at New York’s No wave and art punk movements, and starts in the 1970s with acts like Suicide and DNA and goes all the way up to the early 2000’s with young acts like Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Liars and Black Dice. Through clever editing, Crary tells the story of this difficult (for some!) style with clarity and wit, and features interviews from members of Sonic Youth, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, Swans, Gogol Bordello and more. No Wave bands have the best names, don’t they?

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LOLA, Rainer Werner Fassbinder
The Film Society of Lincoln Center

The second installment of Fassbinder’s BDR trilogy draws generously from Josef von Sternberg’s classic of corruption, The Blue Angel. Sharing a name with Marlene Dietrich’s calculating chanteuse, Lola (dynamic Barbara Sukowa) is a singer at a Bavarian bordello and the mistress to Schukert (Mario Adorf), a shady developer. But to newly arrived building commissioner Von Bohm (Armin Mueller-Stahl, his usual pillar of rectitude), Lola is a poor single mother and an upright citizen. He falls in love with her, oblivious to her true nature and involvement with Schukert, his municipal adversary. Fassbinder uses candy colors and baroque lighting to embroider a world of profligacy, attributing the “Economic Miracle” of Germany’s renaissance in the 1950s to venality and vice.

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MOTHER KÜSTERS GOES TO HEAVEN, Rainer Werner Fassbinder
The Film Society of Lincoln Center

Brigitte Mira, unforgettable as the widow embarking on forbidden love in Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, returns as Emma Küsters, the wife of a factory worker who inexplicably went mad and killed his boss’s son and himself. Unable to fathom her husband’s deeds, Frau Küsters finds herself at the center of a firestorm, exploited by journalists grasping for a story, her daughter (Ingrid Caven), who hopes the publicity will launch her singing career, and a seemingly benevolent couple (Fassbinder regulars Margit Carstensen and Karlheinz Böhm), who hope to recruit her into the Communist Party. Vincent Canby called this jet-black satire “a witty, spare, beautifully performed political comedy,” and Fassbinder’s despairing view of humanity is given voice by the disheartened Mother Küsters: “Everybody is out for something. Once you realize that, everything is much simpler.”

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THE SACRIFICE, Andrei Tarkovsky
BAM

Tarkovsky’s unforgettable final film, made while the director was dying of cancer, is nothing less than the story of the end of the world. When a former actor (Josephson) learns that nuclear holocaust is imminent, he makes an extraordinary deal with God: Call off the apocalypse, and in return he will sacrifice himself and all that he loves. Winner of the Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, The Sacrifice boasts rapturous cinematography by Ingmar Bergman’s longtime collaborator Sven Nykvist.

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***SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 15***

THE DAMNED, Luchino Visconti
The Film Society of Lincoln Center

A year before his death, Fassbinder named Luchino Visconti’s symphony of decadence The Damned as one of his 10 favorite films. Chronicling the downfall of a wealthy German family, the Essenbecks, whose business dealings with the Nazis can’t keep them from unraveling, The Damned is perhaps best remembered for Helmut Berger’s indelible turn as depraved son Martin, vamping in drag as Dietrich in The Blue Angel. Kinky and perverse (the film was rated X upon first release), Visconti’s epic features a score by Maurice Jarre (Lawrence of Arabia) and a stylistic opulence that presages Fassbinder’s later work.

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LILI MARLEEN, Rainer Werner Fassbinder
The Film Society of Lincoln Center

Another large-budget production (after Despair), Lili Marleen is the melodramatic chronicle of the star-crossed love affair between German cabaret singer Willie (Hanna Schygulla) and Swiss-Jewish songwriter Robert Mendelssohn (Lina Wertmüller stalwart Giancarlo Giannini), who furtively lends his support to a group of German Jews. Based on singer Lale Andersen’s autobiographical novel The Heavens Have Many Colors, the title comes from a song written by Robert that becomes a hit in Nazi Germany after Willie records it. An unabashed tearjerker in the Hollywood vein, this international co-production features American leading man Mel Ferrer as Robert’s formidable father.

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THE STATIONMASTER’S WIFE, Rainer Werner Fassbinder
The Film Society of Lincoln Center

Produced in two parts for German television and released theatrically with 90 minutes shorn, Fassbinder’s account of a Bavarian railway stationmaster (Kurt Raab) and his unfaithful, manipulative wife, Hanni (Elisabeth Trissenaar), was adapted from Oskar Maria Graf’s 1931 novel Bolwieser:The Novel of a Husband. With echoes of Madame Bovary, the story follows Hanni’s affairs and ruination of her husband’s life as a reaction to provincial emptiness; the gullibility and fecklessness of civil servant played by Raab also emblematizes the breakdown of order that ushered in the Third Reich. Featuring Udo Kier as a hairdresser who dallies with Hanni. Longtime Fassbinder collaborator Raab, who also contributed to the set design, had a falling out with the director during production and the two never worked together again.

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LE JOUR SE LÈVE, Marcel Carné
Film Forum

As a blind man ascends the stairs of an oddly stand-alone, narrow, six-story working class apartment building, angry voices rise in a top story room, a shot rings out, a snappily-dressed body rolls down the stairs, and the first flics to arrive are greeted by a fusillade of bullets from the apparent killer, right through the door. He is, of course, Jean Gabin, and after his door is shredded by cops’ volleys (director Carné used real ammo), he settles down to chain smoke till dawn… and then the flashbacks begin. Released just as France was falling, this eternal quadrangle — qu’importe sandblaster Jean Gabin romances ethereal florist’s assistant Jacqueline Laurent, who becomes fascinated by mercurial, middle-aged dog-act vaudevillian Jules Berry, whose own assistant Arletty (Children of Paradise’s Garance) breaks up with him right in the middle of the act, and then dallies with Gabin — seemed to sum up the despair and hopelessness of the “poetic realism” that Carné and writing collaborator Jacques Prévert epitomized before the war. Brutally censored by the Vichy puppet government that soon came to power, with cuts including Arletty’s nude emergence from the shower and references to the police as “fascists,” then the removal from the credits of director of photography Curt Kourant and legendary production designer (Children of Paradise, The Apartment, etc.) Alexandre Trauner (both were Jewish) — and then an outright ban as “too demoralizing.” This new 4K restoration puts back the cut scenes and original credits for the first time in 75 years. All-new subtitles by Lenny Borger and Charlotte Trench capture the poetry of Prévert’s dialogue.

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VERONIKA VOSS, Rainer Werner Fassbinder
The Film Society of Lincoln Center

Sunset Boulevard, Fassbinder style. Veronika (Rosel Zech, both chilling and alluring) was a major film star during Hitler’s reign—her friends were said to include Joseph Goebbels—but a decade after the war she finds herself hard up for work and addicted to morphine. She starts an affair with a sportswriter (Hilmar Thate), but her need for drugs keeps her in thrall to a malicious physician (Annemarie Düringer). Shot in evocative black and white by Xaver Schwarzenberger, Fassbinder’s penultimate film (the culmination of his BRD trilogy) won him the coveted Golden Bear at Berlin—his first, accepting the prize barely three months before his death. Look for Armin Mueller-Stahl (Lola) as Veronika’s ex-husband and Lilo Pempeit—Fassbinder’s mother—as a jeweler.

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***SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 16***

KAMIKAZE ’89, Wolf Gremm
The Film Society of Lincoln Center

Fassbinder’s final acting role casts him as an alcoholic police lieutenant (garbed in a leopard-skin suit) tasked with foiling a bomb threat in West Germany’s near future. Adapted by Gremm and Robert Katz (The Cassandra Crossing) from Per Wahlöö’s dystopian novel Murder on the 31st Floor, Kamikaze ’89 imagines a totalitarian society ruled by a corporation (“The Combine”) that controls the media and suppresses all murmurs of dissent or unhappiness. Featuring Franco Nero as a journalist and Brigitte Mira (in her last collaboration with Fassbinder) as a director of personnel, Kamikaze ’89 filters dystopian parables like the concurrent Blade Runner through the West Berlin punk scene, resulting in a uniquely chilling prophecy.

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SHADOW OF ANGELS, Daniel Schmid
The Film Society of Lincoln Center

Swiss director Daniel Schmid adapts Fassbinder’s play about Lily (Ingrid Caven, Fassbinder’s former wife), a downtrodden streetwalker in love with her lazy, abusive pimp (Fassbinder). She meets a prosperous real estate broker (Klaus Löwitsch) who wants to marry her, but happiness in Fassbinder is short-lived. Comprised of epigrams reflective of the writer’s worldview (“When you have money, madness is not far behind”) and equating life with sorrow—evidenced by Lily’s mercy killing of her cat—Shadow of Angels is bleak but undeniably haunting. It was nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1976, losing to another grim portrait of humanity, Scorsese’s Taxi Driver.

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RAINER WERNER FASSBINDER – LAST WORKS, Wolf Gremm
The Film Society of Lincoln Center

This short made-for-TV documentary follows Fassbinder at the end of his career, capturing him both as director (at work on his final film, Querelle) and as actor (in Gremm’sKamikaze ’89, also screening in our retrospective). Gremm’s exceedingly rare portrait of his peer and collaborator is an invaluable document of Fassbinder’s versatility as a film artist, particularly his ability to simultaneously incarnate the lead role in Kamikaze ’89 and to helm his audacious, career-capping adaptation of Jean Genet.

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JOHN CAGE AND AVANT-GARDE FILM SCORE
MoMA

This program explores the use of avant-garde music in experimental cinema, with a particular focus on John Cage, who used chance, unconventional instrumentation, electroacoustics, ambient sound, and silence in his film scores. Cage’s collaborations with Maya Deren, Sidney Peterson, and Herbert Matter are included, along with a film by Ian Hugo featuring an original score by the electronic music pioneers Bebe and Louis Barron. The program culminates in four recent restorations by Center for Visual Music in Los Angeles: John Cage and Richard Lippold’s The Sun Film (1956); Cage and Lippold’s unfinished collaboration The Sun, Variations with a Sphere No. 10 (1956); Oskar Fischinger’s Studie nr. 5 (1930); and Jordan Belson’s LSD (c.1962).

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A HARD DAY’S NIGHT, Richard Lester
BAM

Introduce your family to The Beatles with this blissfully entertaining romp through jolly old England, featuring early hits like “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “She Loves You,” and of course the title track. All the ecstasy of Beatlemania is brought screaming to the screen in this exuberant and game-changing movie musical, still a revelation 50 years after its first release.

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SYNTHETIC SIN, William A. Seiter
Film Forum

Oh, so famed playwright Antonio Moreno’s latest work flopped because fiancée Colleen Moore was too “unsophisticated” to play the lead; guess it’s time for the flower of Magnolia Gap, Virginia, to get to Gotham for some experience – good luck! Her next-door neighbors are gangsters! Recently rediscovered in Italy, this is its first U.S. showing in over 80 years.

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