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Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Produced in 1978
Main Language - English
Countries & Regions - European Film
Bogarde, in one of his final roles, is perfect as the wealthy factory owner who descends into madness, It's a misunderstood masterpiece and it's now beautifully restored, says Alex Davidson.
Despair is one of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s most curious films. It was his first picture to be shot in English, with a script by Tom Stoppard (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead) adapted from Nabokov’s novel, which tells the bizarre story of Hermann Hermann (Dirk Bogarde), a chocolate magnate who becomes obsessed with a homeless man who, he believes, looks just like him. Concerned with the rise of Nazism in 1930s Berlin, he hatches a strange and dangerous plan to escape.
On paper, Despair sounds like an outlandish mash of off-kilter plotting, stylised acting, experimental art direction and incongruously pretty cinematography and music, but on the screen all the disparate components combine to create a unique and constantly surprising slice of insanity that mocks the negative reviews it received on its initial release.
Unusually for Fassbinder, the film features a lot of humour (the director described it as his most ‘optimistic’ film) – Andréa Ferréol, especially, gives a performance of great comedy as Hermann’s vapid, trampy wife, while the chintzy sets act as a wilfully absurd backdrop to the outlandish shenanigans being plotted. The plot, rife with doppelgangers and infused with noir elements, anticipates the later work of David Lynch; the scene where Hermann has sex with his wife as his alter ego looks on through an open door is particularly unnerving.
Fassbinder uses ingenious devices to explore the notion of duality, including an inspired scene in a cinema, where the action in the silent film reflects the dilemmas faced by the anti-hero.
Dirk Bogarde, in one of his last film performances, is ideal as Hermann. Icily dismissive yet filled with corrosive paranoia, it’s a tour-de-force performance of great wit, and stands as one of cinema’s most intriguing descents into madness.
Fassbinder’s extraordinarily productive output from the 1970s – he made three other films in 1978 – makes the sheer quality of Despair all the more surprising. Now re-released in a beautiful restoration, it can be appreciated for the striking, misunderstood work that is has always been.
Alex Davidson on 28th March 2012
Author of 231 reviews
Widely considered to be Fassbinder's masterpiece, Despair - adapted by Tom Stoppard from Vladimir Nabokov's novel - charts the descent into madness of wealthy chocolate factory owner Hermann Hermann (Dirk Bogarde).
In 1930s Berlin, Russian-born emigre Hermann lives a luxurious but vapid life with his wife, Lydia (Andrea Ferreol), who is having an affair with Herman's painter brother, Ardalion (Volker Spengler). Racked with existential doubt and crippled by cynicism, Herman hatches an elaborate plot involving homeless man Felix Weber in an attempt to free himself of his mental tortures - but only ends up driving himself to the brink of full-blown insanity.
Publisher: Park Circus
Length: 116 mins
Cat No: PC0038
Format: DVD Colour
- New restoration
- Behind the scenes.
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