October 1st, 2014

Death Chess

From the Ice Box to the Freezer

If you take the world of the film noir and drain it of all semblance of hope you may have something close to 1969's Love is Colder Than Death (Liebe ist kälter als der Tod). A New Wave inspired film, the first by director and star Rainer Werner Fassbinder, it's desolately cool with the beauty of a sleep walking dissection.

Fassbinder plays Franz, a gangster who seems self consciously modelled on the Marlon Brando Wild One type. As the film begins, he shows he's a dangerous man when he beats up another gangster who tries to take a cigarette from him while they're amongst a group waiting to meet with the head of a local crime syndicate. But the guy Franz beat up later gets a cigarette off Franz when Franz is beat up by syndicate guys for insulting the boss.

Then Franz takes the cigarette back again. Shot on minimalist sets with compositions that emphasise flat horizontal lines, there's no ecstasy of victory or shame in defeat, just a sort of dull navigating of a life that's violent by quiet mutual agreement.

Franz meets a quiet, skinny hoodlum named Bruno (Ulli Lommel), modelled on Alain Delon in Le Samourai, at the meeting and Franz invites him to join his crew. The film follows Bruno from this point.

Eventually Bruno tracks Franz down to where he lives, his girlfriend's apartment. She's a prostitute named Joanna (Hanna Schygulla) who casually takes johns in the room and Franz doesn't much seem to care. The three plot a hit together and a bank robbery.

There are plenty of references to gangster films and noirs like The Postman Always Rings Twice--when it looks like Franz is going to be put away, Bruno and Joanna go on a sort of eerie trip to the grocery store where they coldly go through the motions of a normal couple.

The film is somewhat like Jean Luc Godard's Alphavile where noir characters seem to be struggling with the feeling that they're in a film noir but the characters in Love is Colder Than Death don't seem quite as aware of being in a movie. They seem more like they've simply grown very accustomed to a sense of overwhelming futility.

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Robbers hide in the giant hair piece.
Bars came down on the piano guy's hand.
The funny Mars tripod walked like John Cleese.
Music long ago left the rubber band.
Black bird bath leaves stuck to the fading film.
False trombones retract the brassy statement.
Demeter's logbook was free of the helm.
Persephone's seeds adorned the pavement.
Crayon comedy diminished the green.
Unreal rancour cancelled the holiday.
A red feline idly began to preen.
Soil illustrates the tasteless sundae.
Fate unsealed springs strong caramel snakes forth.
Cold coffee conceals a blackened bean source.