Gods of the Plague

Gods of the Plague

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Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Gods of the Plague picks up where Love Is Colder Than Death left off (in between both projects he helmed the successful Katzelmacher), this time with a lot less preening and not a whole lot of gumption. Franz (now played by Harry Baer) is released from prison and makes plans to rob a local supermarket with the help of “Gorilla” (Fassbinder’s longtime lover Günther Kaufman in his first screen appearance), a Bavarian criminal who killed his brother. After a quick visit with Joanna (still played by the one and only Hanna Schygulla), Franz shacks up with the gorgeous Margarethe (Margarethe Von Trotta), who ultimately gangs up with Joanna in order to betray him. Gods of the Plague suffers from a curious identity crisis. If the film isn’t quite successful as a noir exercise (had Fassbinder tilted his camera a few degrees to the side, we could have been watching any number of Welles classics), it’s probably because there’s a conflict of styles here. The film is tightly composed for much of its running time, but this rigorous framing doesn’t so much evoke the claustrophobic allure of some of the best noir classics as much as it points to Fassbinder’s bare-bones art direction budget. If not as accomplished as Love Is Colder Than Death, Gods of the Plague is dignified by an irresistible and emotional softness. The narrative is random and disposable, which means you’ll have to settle for the allure of the film’s many women. Fassbinder can summon the nurturing love of a mother for a son with as little as a delicate overhead shot and he can fabulously suggest the power of a woman over a man by simply lingering on her unavoidable and imposing gaze (see the picture-cum-advertisement in Margarethe’s apartment that threatens Franz and Gorilla with its curious invitation: “Have a Cool Blonde Harp”). And in Schygulla’s conflicted chanteuse, Fassbinder channels for the first time the spirit of the infamous blond Venus Marlene Dietrich summoned so many times for Josef von Sternberg. The film’s women live so we can have our Lola and Veronika Voss. Never trust a blonde…or something like that.

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DVD
Distributor
New Yorker Films
Runtime
88 min
Rating
NR
Year
1970
Director
Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Screenwriter
Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Cast
Harry Baer, Hanna Schygulla, Margarethe Von Trotta, Günther Kaufman, Carla Egerer, Ingrid Caven, Jan George, Lilo Pempeit, Marian Seidowsky, Micha Cochina, Yaak Karsunke, Hannes Gromball