The Niklashausen Journey


Reviewed by: Leanne McGrath

The Niklashausen Journey
"But while visually striking at times, narratively the film often plods along and the revolutionary rants tend to get repetitive."

This early avant garde film by the enfant terrible of the New German Cinema is one of his most explicitly political pieces, condemning both radical groups and the harsh societies that produce them.

It follows a small group of people trying to start a proletarian revolution against the decadent Bishop and upper classes. They are led by shepherd Hans (Michael Konig), who claims the Virgin Mary appeared to him and told him to start the uprising.

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The film is based on the real Boehm, a drummer in Niklashauser, in 1476, who claimed to be the new Messiah.

Fassbinder initially creates sympathy for his revolutionaries and the cause they believe in before ultimately criticising them as much as he slams the decadence of the foolish ruling classes – represented by a Nero-esque Bishop who lives in luxury and is surrounded by a harem of semi-naked boys.

Our protagonists preach of equality but move into a rich woman’s home to live more comfortably. They abuse religion to recruit followers, then complain people are now dictated to by religion rather than thinking for themselves.

The Niklashauser Journey is not easy watching. The influence of Godard is evident, as is the theatricality of Brecht. The voyeuristic point of view the audience usually enjoys is removed – characters talk direct to us and are often framed as though on stage.

Medieval sets, costumes and music are teamed with modern ones and other periods are mentioned – there is reference to the Russian revolution with a song about Lenin.

Fassbinder displays his usual skilful camera work. Long panning shots are used frequently rather than quick cuts, as are sweeping 360degree rotations. Sequences are long and often uneventful but filled with rich detail.

But while visually striking at times, narratively the film often plods along and the revolutionary rants tend to get repetitive.

Those interested in political films and Fassbinder’s frequent themes of criticising his 70s Germany will find much of interest in The Niklashauser Journey but it is definitely one that requires your thinking cap.

Reviewed on: 21 Nov 2007
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A shepherd claims the Virgin Mary has ordered him to start a revolution against the Church and upper classes. Out to own now on the RW Fassbinder Commemorative Collection: Vol 1.
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Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Michael Fengler

Writer: Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Michael Fengler

Starring: Michael Konig, Hanna Schygulla, Margit Carstensen, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Kurt Raab, Michael Gordon

Year: 1970

Runtime: 88 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: West Germany


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