Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Rainer Werner Fassbinder | Die Dritte Generation (The Third Generation)

by Douglas Messerli

Rainer Werner Fassbinder (writer and director) Die Dritte Generation (The Third Generation)

The Third Generation
is one of Fassbinder’s most difficult works, in part, because it is a comedic rendition of terrorists. Rather than the dark, monomaniacal underground figures of film and legend, the director’s vision of a terrorist cell superficially similar to the German Baader-Meinhof terrorist group (Fassbinder himself knew Andreas Baader as a teenager, but later disapproved of Baader’s tactics) is quite the opposite. Here, the squabbling young middle-class members spend more time on elaborate modes of communication—reminding one a bit of Jean-Pierre Melville’s version of underground heroes of World War II in Army of Shadows (1969)—than accomplishing any direct acts of terrorism. 
     These young, often confused and always terrified anarchists—Susanne Gast (Hanny Schygulla), Petra Vielhaber (Margin Carstensen), Hilde Krieger (Bulle Ogier), ringleader August Brem (Volker Spengler), Paul (Raúl Gimenez), Rudolf Mann (Harry Baer), and Franz Walsch (Günther Kaufmann)—dance, fall in love, smoke endlessly, and, far more ironically, spend hours playing monopoly. The director, moreover, portrays their meetings with a jarring world of loud television intrusion and constant interruptive dialogue. There is hardly moment in their lives of quietude and peace.
     Their relationships with others, some with the enemies they are seeking to destroy, are equally brutal and meaningless: Susanne works for the industrialist P. J. Lurz (Eddie Constantine) and is having a kind of S&M relationship with police-head Gerhard Gast, her father-in-law, who is protecting Lurz from possible terrorist attacks. Paul, a new recruit, assigned to stay with Hilde, rapes her, but immediately after becomes her lover. 
      Rudolf, who rents the largest Berlin apartment of the group, has taken in a hopeless drug-addict, Ilse Hoffmann (Y Sa Lo), whom the other group members insist has to go, blaming Rudolf for what they believe must be his Catholic conscience. As the group is called together for a meeting with the code “The world as will and idea” (a phrase from philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer), they mill around Rudolf’s apartment, only to be met with further confusion as Ilse’s former lover, Franz, shows up with a clearly homosexual acolyte, a theorist-reading young aristocrat Bernhard von Stein. Rather than admire this young free thinker, the cell members mock him for his reading of Bakunin. Yet the evidently kind-hearted Rudolf accepts them generously also as roommates—again against the sentiments of the group.
      Fassbinder links their episodic meetings with sexual comments penned on Berlin bathroom walls. And, indeed, it appears that the coarse language of both the heterosexual and homosexual toilet statements is appropriate to the absurd sexual posturings of The Third Generation’s cell members: at one point a couple stand in an embrace while Paul masturbates to the television set, and two women hold hands. 
      What this absurd group does not perceive is that their major supporter is Lutz himself, in an attempt to stage a coup so that his company might sell more surveillance computers. In short, the industrialists are supporting the terrorists in order to create a bigger industry for their own protection—with no Edward Snowden even on the horizon yet. As Ghast sickeningly pontificates: “Capitalism invented terrorism to force the state to protect it better.”
       Obviously, murder is necessary to create the proper publicity. Paul is shot dead in a Japanese restaurant, and the cell is forced to regather in order to find a way to financially survive and for the individuals to gain new identities. Petra and other of the terrorists rob a bank, the very institution in which her husband works. To escape she must shoot her own husband dead. Seeking new identities, the group hits up a government office, Rudolf so terrified in the process of the robbery that he pees his pants. But back at his home there is even more bad news: Franz’s Ilse has overdosed and is dead.
      Memorizing their new identities, the group scatters. Only the confused and totally innocent Bernhard remains to answer Officer Gast’s endless questions. But the policeman’s, themselves, leads him to wonder where all the others might have gone, particularly his beloved Franz. Following August, he observes a meeting with the industrialist Lurz, who hands over more money for the group’s finances. 
      Having set up the newcomer Franz as the traitor, August tells his supposed comrade, Bernhard, where Ilse has been buried, while alerting authorities where they might find him. Despite Bernhard’s attempt to warn his friend, Franz is shot and killed. Gast makes certain that Bernhard is killed as well.
      August instructs Petra to bomb a location while warning the police of the event, where she too is intercepted. The few remaining cell-members, dressed in clown-like costumes, kidnap Lurz, who perceiving it still has part of his secret plan, willingly smiles into the camera as again and again, they attempt to tape his appeal to the world to be freed.
      What Fassbinder has established, obviously, is that the industrialist world and terrorists both need one another and are equally responsible for the other’s existence. Viewers in Frankfurt beat up the projectionist upon the film’s opening; audiences in Hamburg threw acid upon the screen. My friend Pablo, who introduced me to the works of Fassbinder, and who is a great admirer of his work, told me that after about a half-hour through this movie he got up and walked out, suggesting that he couldn’t even determine the character’s relationships; I suggested that if he had stayed for the entire film, these might have become more apparent, but I do sympathize with his feelings early on in the film.
       For me, this film, like all of Fassbinder’s work I have seen to date, was absolutely spellbinding, this one being a comedy that dramatically (even with its radically disjunctive leaps) reveals the relationship with power and those who might like to usurp it. It is after all, a mirror image. Monopoly is the name of the game.

Los Angeles, April 5, 2016

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