Rio das Mortes (1971)

14 06 2008

Not the greatest of Fassbinder’s early anti-theater films, but in any case, a lot better than his later Sirk-inspired melodramas. This is sort of like his usual detached style run through an early Paul Morrissey filter. In other words, it is a bit more outrightly humorous than his other films from this period and features really grainy color cinematography. If I have any problem with the film it has to be the extremely poor film stock and the fact that it makes Fassbinder’s usual minimalism come off as just being bland. Still, considering the context in which the film was made (it is one of a hundred films Fassbinder made in 1970) it’s pretty damn remarkable

Michel and Gunther are both twenty-something males desperate to escape the dullness of everyday life. They dream of, one day, having enough money to take a long trip to Peru. At every turn, they are reminded just how silly their plan is. Michel’s girlfriend, Hanna, is particularly humored by the plan, especially since all she wants is to get married. Realizing just how costly such a trip is, the group begins to hatch a plan to get people to finance their “expedition” which is supported by a treasure map they found.

As thrilling and plot-driven as this does sound, it is, as one can expect from Fassbinder’s early features, a very downbeat film. It is much closer to resembling the films from the American “mumblecore” (man do I hate using this word!) movement. In other words, this is very much a film about young adults struggling to find themselves, their place in society, and the issues of their relationships, and so on. Personally, I relate to these stories a lot, even if they aren’t entirely original, so it’s hard for me not to like this film. Once again, Fassbinder manages to get very powerful Bressonian performances out of his cast, and in one scene, out of himself. Indeed, it is the image of Fassbinder dancing with Hanna Schygulla to Kenny Rodger’s “Ruby” that I will think of whenever I see this film mentioned.

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