Angst vor der Angst

(Fear of Fear, West Germany - 1975)

by Mike Lorefice

Cast: Margit Carstensen, Ulrich Faulhaber, Brigitte Mira, Irm Hermann, Armin Meier, Adrian Hoven
Genre: Drama
Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Screenplay: Rainer Werner Fassbinder from Asta Scheib's novel Langsame Tage
Cinematography: Jurgen Jurges
Composer: Peer Raben

Mining for the societal causes of mental illness was one of the primary dedications of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s cinema. Fassbinder’s search turned the camera on his audience, showing his characters left discontented by bourgeois ideals and soulless societal comforts. They unhappiness wouldn’t be cured by others, as their allies are too oblivious to help them, hostel judgmental foes do more damage with their condescending looks than they can imagine, and doctors simply cash in by creating addictions with their pills.

Turning the accepted back upon his audience, Fassbinder depicted previously well adjusted males being transformed into murdering madmen in such sympathetic films as Why Does Herr R. Run Amok?, I Only Want You to Love Me, and Despair. One of the great directors of females, Fassbinder examines the another possibility in Fear of Fear, violence against yourself. The most painful aspect of Margot’s (Margit Carstensen) life is thinking about the emotions she’s unable to convey; slitting her wrist is actually a relief as pain at least distracts Margot from her fearful thoughts. Margot, who takes FDR too literally as she actually fears fear itself, is neither able to solve her own problems nor convey them to others. The inability to communicate has deadly and debilitating results in Fassbinder’s filmography, for instance Fox and His Friends, with Margot becoming self-destructive due to her inability to change or escape her isolating environment.

The film is entirely told from Margot’s point of view, which is good in so far as Margit Carstensen is more than up to the task of being at the center of every scene. She portrays insanity with subtlety and restraint, only expressing enough for the audience to comprehend the effects of her anxiety. Though not exactly what Americans would think of as a Telefilm, Fear of Fear does fit the bill when it comes to being a bit too polemic. The characters and scenarios are black and white, with Margot being the only real person, trapped in a world inhabited by shallow lifeless order protectors. The fact her sister-in-law Lore (Irm Hermann) has to assert “We’re the normal ones” only serves to prove the point far too bluntly for my tastes.

Margot’s husband Kurt (Ulrich Faulhaber) goes to grad school after his engineering job, so he’s eternally weary to the point he doesn’t even want to budge when her water breaks. The young couple live in a comfortably, but until Kurt gets his credential they’re stuck in a complex with Kurt’s family living above them. Postpartum depression may play a small role in Margot’s difficulties, but Margot is a warm lively figure with no outlet for her personality, constricted by her perpetually spying busybody in-laws who scoff at her every move.

Kurt’s family not only fails to respond to Margot’s positive emotions, they never show any affection even to those they actually do like. Kurt’s mother (Brigitte Mira) even complains that Margot has her hands on her children too much, doing such awful things as hugging and kissing them. Karli (Fassbinder’s then lover Armin Meier), who is married to Lore, is nice to his sister-in-law when his wife isn’t around, but she bitches if she catches him treating Margot decently, putting him in the same would be sympathetic but unable to identify and satisfy Margot’s needs and desires class as Kurt.

In addition to being a German variation on Douglas Sirk’s melodramas on American middle class life, Fassbinder borrows thriller elements from Alfred Hitchcock. After watching Margot swim a pool for 10 minutes Karli comments she looked mad swimming back and forth, leading to a motif where Fassbinder employs a rippling effect every time Margot has an attack. She’s been able to keep her head above water through her strong will and ability to sway Kurt from listening to his mother and sister, but that’s robbed upon entry into the meek follower factory known as the psychiatric ward.

Kurt Rabb, who played the eponymous reliable man who is numbed into homicidal insanity in Why Did Herr R. Run Amok?, returns to essentially play a later version of Herr R. Now that his lunacy is accepted, everyone is afraid of him, and thus does their best to avoid the catatonic man who wonders the streets aimlessly. If there’s something tangible Margot has to fear, it’s that this is likely to be what the future holds.



* Copyright 2008 - Raging Bull Movie Reviews *