DVD Review: Despair

Rainer Werner Fassbinder quickly became a sensation in the international arthouse world. His movies were widely booked along with his German contemporaries Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire), Volker Schlondorff (Tin Drum) and Werner Herzog (Aguirre, the Wrath of God). His numerous low budget films weren’t embraced by his native land. Fassbinder went international for Despair. The movie is based off the novel by Russian exile Vladimir Nabokov (Lolita). The script was written by English playwright Tom Stoppard (Rosencrantz & Guildernstern Are Dead). The lead was noted creepy English actor Dirk Bogarde (The Servant). Fassbinder kept his regular cinematographer Michael Ballhaus (The Departed) and German location.

Hermann Hermann (Bogarde) appears to be doing well. He’s a Russian immigrant in Germany that’s a kingpin in the chocolate world. Things are getting rough as the Nazi’s inch toward the start of World War II. Hermann can’t figure out life. He’s slowly losing it. During a night out with the wife (Tin Drum‘s Andrea Ferreol), he sees himself in the back row. Is it really him? That night he has a strange vision of watching himself making love to his wife. Things get weird since the other him is wearing a strange fascist uniform. He bumps into Felix (Klaus Lowitsch). This scruffy unemployed workman has no idea why he’s being eyeballed. Hermann swears the guy is his twin. They’re not close to looking alike. Things keep getting bleaker as he fears what will happen to his business with the rise of the Nazis and his wife having an affair with her cousin. What’s he going to do? He comes up with a plan involving his “twin” that will let him makes a clean break. At least that’s what he thinks.

Bitter critics view Despair as Fassbinder attempting to sell out. How dare he find inspiration in another author and mingle with Englishmen. How can it really be a movie without subtitles? It’s hard to view this as a cash grab like when today’s indie arthouse darlings go Hollywood to make a comic book superhero flicks. Fassbinder merely realized that he didn’t have to confine himself to only working with Germans. There’s nothing about Despair that plays like a sell out to pander to an audience that wanted to see the latest Burt Reynolds’ epic. The movie is more sophisticated than his previous efforts. Bogarde uses his creepy charm to give Hermann a certain believable delusion when sizing up Felix. Despair might not be a proper German film, but it proved Fassbinder wasn’t just a local filmmaker.

The video is 1.66:1 anamorphic. There are black bars on either side of the screen to maintain the aspect ratio. The transfer lets Ballhaus’ cinematography shine. The audio is mono. The characters speak English.

Photo Gallery has 20 production pics.

Despair adapts Nabokov’s novel about a man goes nuts and swears he’s found his twin. Dirk Bogarde once more gives a character a creepy charm. He was an expert at looking proper and flipping out. Fassbinder succeeds with an international creative team.

Olive Films presents Despair. Directed by: Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Starring: Dirk Bogarde, Andrea Ferreol and Klaus Lowitsch. Running Time: 121 Minutes. Rating: Unrated. Released on DVD: June 7, 2011. Available at Amazon.com.

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