Director Spotlight: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

By Jacob deBlecourt

Though only having worked in the film industry for 15 years, Rainer Werner Fassbinder cemented his legacy with prolific cinematic offerings which challenge how cinema, as an art form, can convey meaning and significance. Even from birth Fassbinder seemed to have subverted expectations. His New York Times obituary dates his birth in 1946, when in actuality he was born in 1945 (Maslin, 1). Fassbinder’s mother insisted he tell people he was born after the fall of the Third Reich so as to appear to be as post-war a baby as possible.

This post-war attitude stuck with him in his film work as well.

Social commentary played a large role in his films; Fassbinder often placed strong women in lead roles. The Harvard Film Archive describes Fassbinder’s Ali: Fear Eats the Soul as a “melodrama with a capital M, and a beautiful homage to the great German-American director Douglas Sirk—particularly to his film All That Heaven Allows and its attendant social commentary” (HFA, 1).

The first scene of the film takes place near the end of WWII in Germany.

Perhaps one of Fassbinder’s most famous periods in his film career was when he was most inspired by the work of Douglas Sirk. His Hollywood melodramas also spoke largely of domestic and female issues, to poor reviews to critics; however, Fassbinder appreciated the artistic nature of Sirk, an artist as well as a cinematographer (Maddin, 1), and his films. In addition to this, his background in theatre shifted how Fassbinder approached cinema, especially in his sets. In The Marriage of Maria Braun, for example, Fassbinder transitions over a decade of post-WWII German history by shifting from a gray-scale Trümmerfilm-esque environment to a lush, economic miracle-d estate. In Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, Emmi’s shabby but well-taken-care-of apartment reflects Emmi herself, as a confident, caring, yet self-identified plain woman. The beauty of a Fassbinder film is that it is so rich in metaphors and symbolism that regardless of how many times someone views one, they learn something new.


Works Cited:

  • Harvard Film Archive. “The New German Cinema and Beyond.” The New German Cinema and Beyond – Harvard Film Archive, Harvard Film Archive,
  • Maddin, Guy, director. GUY MADDIN – the Palettes of Rainer Werner, TIFF, 22 Nov. 2016.
  • Maslin, Janet. “RAINER WERNER FASSBINDER, 36, FILM MAKER, DEAD.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 10 June 1982,

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