Review: Pioneers in Ingolstadt

It’s in the hopes and emotional disappointments of the film’s women that Fassbinder evokes not a war between nations but an equally destructive battle between the sexes.

Pioneers in Ingolstadt
Photo: Fantoma

Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Whity seriously kick-started the filmmaker’s career, but before the German bad boy left for Spain to shoot the film in early 1970, he directed the quickie Pioneers in Ingolstadt for German television. Though not exactly insignificant, the film is still a minor work for a director best known for thought-provoking observations of social exclusion like Fox and His Friends and tear-jerkers like Ali: Fear Eats the Soul. Pioneers in Ingolstadt was one of only a handful of productions whose source material wasn’t written by Fassbinder himself, though it bears mentioning that Marieluise Fleisser (whose 1929 play the director adapts here for the screen) was a favorite of Bertolt Brecht’s. The film catalogs the sexual exploits of army recruits sent to the film’s titular town in order to build a bridge. The story is difficult to place on an actual timeline, though it appears as if its soldiers are members of the Nazi party. Fassbinder doesn’t do much with this small and ultimately insignificant detail, though he seems to recognize a certain irony in having a black man as a member of the film’s pioneer ranks. Fassbinder regulars Irm Hermann and Hanna Schygulla star as two housemaids-cum-prostitutes whose lives are shattered when the men love them and subsequently leave them. It’s in the hopes and emotional disappointments of the film’s women that Fassbinder evokes not a war between nations but an equally destructive battle between the sexes. Appropriately, these little wars between the film’s men and women are sometimes unfounded and end in bitter regret, but a careless Fassbinder only seems half-interested in the emotional devastations he charts. This is not the quintessential aesthetic detachment vital to other Fassbinder masterworks (and crucial to the theater of Brecht and the cinema of Douglas Sirk), but an unmistakable boredome on the filmmaker’s part.

Score: 
 Cast: Hanna Schygulla, Harry Baer, Irm Hermann, Rudolph Waldemar Brem, Walter Sedlmayr, Klaus Löwitsch, Carla Egerer, Günther Kaufmann, Elga Sorbas, Günther Krää, Burghard Schlicht  Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder  Screenwriter: Rainer Werner Fassbinder  Distributor: Fantoma  Running Time: 88 min  Rating: NR  Year: 1971  Buy: Video

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez is the co-founder of Slant Magazine. His writing has also appeared in The Village Voice and The Los Angeles Times. He’s a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, the Critics Choice Association, and the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association.

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