It’s striking that this bleak, overtly stylised film should have been a commercial hit. Whilst Fassbinder draws upon Sirkian melodrama, no one would mistake this for a Hollywood film. Fassbinder had the talent to create an almost surrealist mise en scène from a banal setting. For example, Irmgard is framed against a shop window featuring a wedding dress when she’s mistaken for a prostitute in the street; the image above shows Hans pontificating about how hard done by he is to an almost mute coterie of men.
The stylisation is probably most notable in the performances; the robotic-like postures and glances of dehumanised bourgeoisie. Except Hanna Schygulla’s Anna, the commentator on the corruption of her family; even Renate, Hans’ and Irmgard’s daughter, looks like (a Hitler youth) automaton though she may just be traumatised by her parents.
If Herzog and Wenders, in Stroszek and Alice in the Cities, blogged recently, were searching for identity, then Fassbinder explains why they are looking.