Wednesday, 26 January 2011


Freshly returned from a stint in the French Foreign Legion, Hans takes on a lowlier job as a fruit merchant, working under the constant henpecking of his sensible wife Irmgard. An incident involving a past love spurs Hans into a sad routine of nostalgia and self-destruction, punctuated by frequent trips to the bar where he tells anyone who will listen about his former career as a policeman. When Irmgard pushes him too far one night, Hans flips and attacks her with a chair, and the subsequent argument leads to Hans suffering a violent heart attack. The relationship is turned on its head as Irmgard has an affair during Hans’ hospitalisation, raising the ugly issue of trust once again.

The Merchant of Four Seasons marks an evolution in Fassbinder’s style, although vestiges of his sarcastic sense of humour are still palpable. Neither Hans nor Irmgard is a particularly sympathetic character, but their tempestuous relationship is what holds the film together. On the surface the film could be Fassbinder’s twist on the fairy tale, Hans playing a stubby ogre to Irmgard’s svelte princess – at one point Irmgard amuses herself by telling Hans she only really fell for him because of him comical appearance. Indeed the film itself works best as an awkward comedy, despite its serious themes and depressing dénouements. The Merchant of Four Seasons is somewhat reminiscent of Fassbinder’s earlier Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? in its impatient editing, but occasional flashbacks and stronger characterisation allow the viewer enough access.

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