Fear Of Fear

Fear Of Fear

****

Reviewed by: Leanne McGrath

It may be a TV movie about a housewife but Fear Of Fear is not a predictable, cheap melodrama. Instead, Fassbinder presents a woman’s descent into madness with great skill, both visually and narratively. It is an insightful study into mental illness and its effect on the individual and the family.

The story follows Margot (Margit Carstensen), a wife and mum who appears content with her middle-class life. But just as she gives birth to her second son, she fears she is going insane and turns to drink and drugs.

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Her husband Kurt (Ulrich Faulhaber) is initially oblivious to her fragile mental state as he focuses on studying for an exam, while her sneering mother-in-law (Brigitte Mira) and sister-in-law Lore (Irm Hermann) condemn her as an incompetent mum and a drunk who simply needs to pull herself together. They do not recognise her as having genuine problems and would rather criticise her than help her.

Carstensen – a frequent star of Fassbinder’s films, most notable in the title role of The Bitter Tears Of Petra Von Kant – delivers a tremendous performance, with her stiffness reflecting how she is trapped by her emotions.

Fassbinder’s technical skill is, as always, flawless. Every shot is based on his anxious character’s point-of-view and he often uses a blurring effect – like being underwater – when we look through her eyes to show her instability. There are also numerous fade-outs rather than straight cuts. Many were probably for commercial breaks but they also work to show how Margot slowly blanks out the increasingly terrifying world smothering her.

The sets show how trapped Margot feels. Her home is small, tightly framed and the stripes of her wallpaper act as prison bars. Characters are shot in narrow doors and their full bodies are rarely shown – they are blocked from each other, especially Margot.

It could be argued that the other characters are underdeveloped but this could be because we are supposed to be distanced from them in the way our heroine is. How can we relate to them if she cannot? One character, in particular, functions to show her fragility. The strange Mr Bauer (Kurt Raab) seems to stalk her every time she goes out and claims to know “her secret”. He is known for his mental problems and condemned as a weirdo – Margot empathises with him and fears this.

As in most, if not all, Fassbinder films, the ending is ambiguous but the journey Margot takes as she tries to fight her demons is definitely one worth seeing.

Reviewed on: 21 Nov 2007
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Fear Of Fear packshot
A German housewife fears she is going insane following the birth of her second child. Out to own now on the RW Fassbinder Commemorative Collection: Vol 2.
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Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Writer: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Starring: Margit Carstensen, Ulrich Faulhaber, Brigitte Mira, Irm Hermann, Armin Meier, Adrian Hoven, Kurt Raab, Constanze Haas

Year: 1975

Runtime: 88 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Germany

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