by Douglas Messerli
Even those who might be described as devotees of the films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder seem to have difficulty when talking about his 1971 television film, Rio das Mortes, describing it as “ill conceived,” “badly filmed,” “perfunctory,” and illogically plotted. What is the relationship between the seeming hero of this work, Mike (Michael König), his girlfriend Hanna (Hanna Schygulla), and the intruding salesman-former friend Günter (Günter Kaufmann)? Why are the two “blood brothers” (Mike and Günter) so determined to travel to Peru simply upon having discovered (then lost and rediscovered) a treasure map? Why does Hanna, so adamantly opposed to their travel plans that she seems ultimately willing to kill the male “buddies,” so insistently attempt to help them by hooking them up with her investor uncle (Franz Maron) and, later, with Joachim (Joachim von Mengerschausen), her girlfriend Katrin’s (Katrin Schaake) student lover? And what are we to make of the fact that the region the map purportedly portrays is actually in Brazil? In short, most critics argue, the parts just don’t add up to a whole.