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From the YouTube Movie Trailer Archives XCIX: Die Sehnsucht der Veronika Voss

In English it is simply titled ‘Veronika Voss’. As I once wrote elsewhere, the entire title should have been translated. One of the web dictionaries informs us that ‘Sehnsucht’ means ‘longing’, which has a fairly significant bearing on the film. It’s not a biopic, it’s a movie about the desire of one woman past her prime. To what extent is the longing of Veronika shared by all of us? While watching the movie it is good to ask one’s self what it is exactly that Veronika longs for. Many things, of course, but in pursuit of that longing we find a mystery in which the secrets are hidden in some pretty dark corners. As somewhat typical of Fassbinder’s works, the mysteries in the lives of these characters are deeply woven into the fabric of his own life as well.

A washed-up movie star is somewhat immoderately grateful for the kindness offered to her by a sportswriter, and soon a lopsided relationship of undefined reciprocity blooms. Perhaps ‘reciprocity’ is too chilly – there is real affection between the two, but neither character really seeks to understand the forces that have driven them together. Is the reporter simply looking for a story, and is the movie star simply looking for adoration? Not quite, for the sportswriter can be seen scribbling strange poems in the margin of his marginal life, and the actress has a habit of trying to turn the world around her into a movie set. Something else is at work behind the intersecting fates of these characters. Robert’s attempt to right the balance of their early friendship turns into a quest to discover the reason for some of the darker irregularities in Veronika’s life. He does so under the guise of being a reporter (he is a reporter, but this story would seem to lie outside his domain), although halfway through the movie he can’t say whether his pursuit is more professional or personal. The dramatic irony that develops during those incidents in which the plot turns is such that even the most predictable destination demands to be seen in light of other characters’ reactions to it. The less predictable fates of relatively minor characters are even more sad, prompting the question of why others must pay the price for the darker obsessions of selves unable to break free of their fetters, whether they be societal or psychological.

It’s also a tremendous indictment of the society that developed and developed under the economic miracle of Germany in the 1950’s, without being the least bit preachy. An American soldier drifts in and out and is often visible in the background taking care of business, providing supplies, and generally making himself at home in a world that really isn’t his. An elderly gentleman rolls up his sleeve to reveal his concentration camp tattoo, and a public health official maintains the impossibility of a drug scam developing, but describes his own complicity in his very denial. The entire story unfolds to the tune of tired American country western songs in endless repetition on the radio. It’s all stunningly filmed in beautiful black and white, and accompanied by a rather unique soundtrack of harmonicas, guitars and saxophones by Fassbinder’s usual collaborator, Peer Raben.

The film is not without humor: a simple, drunken joke about two brothers limns the complex interconnection between the principle characters, and the soldier is played more as a buffoon than a morally corrupt villain. Such ironies have a pathetic aspect as well: the sportswriter’s girlfriend inexplicably stands by him, even after being left on her doorstep for a strange woman. Veronika’s loosening grip on reality is at times painfully on display, and one can only wonder that she isn’t aware of the extent to which her life is becoming a mockery of ‘Sunset Boulevard’.

The DVD edition includes the best extras I’ve seen on disc yet, for any film. Tony Rayns’ commentary track is a model that other critics would do well to observe, and the conversation between the star, Rosel Zech, and editor Juliane Lorenz is the most informative of any I’ve seen in the Fassbinder series. The whole package is really a minor masterpiece, as Zech says in the interview; perhaps something more than minor.

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