Fassbinder could never be accused of lacking ambition, and in The Niklashausen Journey he becomes his most politically direct. The film uses anachronisms to invite reevaluations of contemporary German politics, with particular resonance with the possible reunification of Germany. He also uses the presence of a medieval peasant amidst modern characters to underline the ridiculousness of revolutionaries comparing themselves to historical figures by dint of their ability to recite ideologies with conviction. One particularly mischievous example sees Böhm preaching Marxist slogans to anyone who will listen, before singing a paean to Lenin. Naturally, a film with such grand aspirations is bound to be uneven, and it is difficult to tell what Fassbinder wanted his audience to make of the characters’ contradictions. As such, it does not have the sincerity of Pasolini’s more overtly political works, sharing more in common with Derek Jarman’s later Jubilee. Uncompromising but unbalanced.
Wednesday, 8 September 2010
A radical work even for Fassbinder’s hefty film catalogue, The Niklashausen Journey darts through history to tell the story of Hans Böhm, a lowly Franconian shepherd who had a visionary experience which instructed him to preach social equality to the masses, calling for the deaths of clergymen and members of the upper class. Böhm, resembling a brightly dressed, long-haired anarchist, finds himself surrounded by a variety of characters from different eras, who appear to be following his life story as it happens. Fassbinder himself plays the enigmatic leather-clad Black Monk, who speaks in curt maxims as he shadows Böhm in his egalitarian mission.