Merchant Of Four Seasons

Merchant Of Four Seasons

****

Reviewed by: Leanne McGrath

Fassbinder's tale of a put-upon fruit seller is a damning attack on society's snobbery and its devastating effect on the individual. The director is a fierce critic of post-war German society in his collection of impressive melodramas, focusing here, as most melodramas do, on the family, using that model as a representative of the current culture as a whole.

Like most of his films, The Merchant Of Four Seasons depicts a desperate longing for love and freedom - a longing society will never allow to be fulfilled. Our protagonist is Hans Epp (Hans Hirschmuller), who joined the Foreign Legion then the police force, only to be fired when he is caught in his office with a prostitute. He then becomes a fruit seller, hawking his barrow of wares around the streets to the shame of his bourgeois family - particularly his caustic mother (Gusti Kreissl).

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Hans has only two pleasures - drinking and his former sweetheart, his one true love. Both are, understandably, frowned upon by his wife - the often manipulative but downtrodden Irmgard (Irm Hermann).

After beating up his spouse and having a heart attack, Hans turns his life around and finds business success, enjoying happiness and the rare praise of his family. But deep down he is still miserable and his descent into a deep depression - is a heartbreaking depiction of a man driven over the edge by an uncaring society.

Hans's story is told through a fractured narrative of current action and flashback. His misery is brought on by trying - and failing - to please his family and their class prejudices rather than doing what will make him happy. His beloved refuses his proposal, saying her father would never approve. He wanted to be a mechanic but his mother refused to let him do a job where his hands would get dirty. She was ashamed when he joined the Legion and on his return, spits that he influenced a boy from a good family to join and he died when it should have been Hans. "The good die young. The rest, like you, come back." She significantly, in a simple yet effective move, shuts the door in his devastated face. Yep, Hans' old dear is up there with Mrs Bates in the maternal stakes - and screws her son up as badly.

As Hans' sister Anna (the wonderful Hanna Schygulla) wonderfully lays bare the family's faults - telling it like it is brutally and honestly.

Hans is an anti-hero that the spectator both pities and despises. You can't help but feel sorry for him - he's short, overweight and deemed a failure. His wife - despite her protestations of love in the bedroom - mocks him, cheats on him and seems to be at his side through duty rather than affection most of the time. But on the other hand, Hans is a vile drunk who beats his wife, the scene where he does so wonderfully filmed by Fassbinder. It goes on for so long it goes from frightening to almost funny.

Overall, Hans' tale is one of a man who cannot escape the miserable existence fate led him into without drastic measures. The saddest part of his story is that once he is gone, his family seem relieved and almost better off.

Reviewed on: 08 Aug 2006
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Tragic tale of a put-upon fruit seller in post-war Germany.
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Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Writer: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Starring: Irm Hermann, Hans Hirschmuller, Hanna Schygulla, Klaus Lowitsch, Karl Scheydt, Andrea Schober, Gusti Kreissl, Ingrid Caven, Kurt Raab, Heide Simon, Peter Chatel, Elga Sorbas

Year: 1972

Runtime: 89 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: West Germany

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