Tag Archives: Fassbinder

Tenderness of the Wolves

tenderness of the wolves
Tenderness of the Wolves

Format: Dual Format (Blu-Ray + DVD)

Release date: 2 November 2015

Distributor: Arrow Video

Director: Ulli Lommel

Writer: Kurt Raab

Original title: Zärtlichkeit der Wölfe

Cast: Kurt Raab, Jeff Roden, Margit Christensen, Ingrid Craven, Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Germany 1969

106 mins

Produced by R.W. Fassbinder, Ulli Lommel’s take on real-life serial killer Fritz Haarmann is restrained and stylised.

On paper, Tenderness of the Wolves (1973) is an unlikely project, to say the least. The film was produced by legendary German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder, but bears little similarity to his powerful and astutely observed social dramas; it’s certainly difficult to imagine Fassbinder tackling the story of a prolific German serial killer in one of his own films. It was obviously a very personal project for long-standing Fassbinder associate Kurt Raab, who wrote the script and starred as the vampiric, cannibalistic killer. Another Fassbinder contact took the director’s chair: Ulli Lommel, later known in cult circles as the director of the supernatural slasher flick The Boogey Man (1980).

In the wake of World War Two, Fritz Haarmann lives out a comfortable existence, thanks to a campaign of petty crime: fraud, theft, black-market racketeering. He’s a convicted homosexual with a long rap sheet (homosexuality was illegal in Germany at the time), but the overworked and understaffed police turn a blind eye to his activities because Haarmann is a valuable informant. Haarmann himself exploits his police connections by regularly ‘patrolling’ the local train station, which feeds into his secret career as a brutal serial killer who preys on young men and boys, many of them drifters who take shelter at the station. After each kill, Haarmann always has plenty of fresh meat to sell to his friends and neighbours, and give as presents to his police friends.

Despite the grim subject matter, Tenderness of the Wolves is relatively restrained. Although violent and bloody scenes do feature in the film’s final third, for much of its length it focuses on a stylized representation of Haarmann’s life and his interaction with others. While it’s clear that he is killing people, the acts are not depicted, just the initial meeting and the subsequent distribution of ‘meat’. This is not without interest, but it does rob much of the film of any tension or suspense, leaving Tenderness of the Wolves left to survive mainly on Kurt Raab’s distant, slightly otherworldly performance. Raab is consistently excellent as the shaven-headed monster, but like the film as a whole, he seems to move at a deliberate and stately pace, as if forced to figure out his every move in advance, step by step. How much enjoyment you derive from the film is largely dependent on your tolerance for its slow pacing, but Tenderness of the Wolves is not without its rewards.

Director Ulli Lommel has had a varied career, to say the least. Born into a showbusiness family, Lommel’s father was a prominent stage comedian who appeared in a number of films in the 1920s and 30s. Like his sister, Lommel took to stage early in life. In the mid-60s he formed a friendship with then-theatrical director Fassbinder. When Fassbinder began moving towards cinema, Lommel went with him, first as an actor, then as a scriptwriter and director. By the late 1970s he had moved to New York and become associated with Andy Warhol’s Factory scene, eventually directing films, including Cocaine Cowboys (1979) and Blank Generation (1980), both of which featured Warhol himself. They also brought him into contact with actress Suzanna Love, a wealthy heiress that Lommel would later marry. Lommel and Love made a series of low-budget horror films together, including The Boogey Man, psycho-thriller Olivia (1983) and witchcraft revenge story The Devonsville Terror (1983), all of which are quirky, interesting takes on standard genre frameworks. From there Lommel directed a series of increasingly dull, anonymous action flicks and TV movies. He resurfaced in the 21st century with a string of zero-budget zombie and slasher movies, most of which showed absolutely no evidence of the talent and ability that Lommel’s earlier films demonstrated.

Jim Harper

Watch the Arrow Video Story to Tenderness of the Wolves:



Format: DVD + Blu-ray (Region 2/B)

Release date: 10 March 2014

Distributor: Artificial Eye

Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Writer: Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Burkhard Driest

Based on the novel: Querelle of Brest by Jean Genet

Cast: Brad Davis, Franco Nero, Jeanne Moreau

West Germany, France 1982

101 mins

When Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Querelle was first released in cinemas in 1982, it was not received with much enthusiasm by the critics, despite its inspired imagery. Most of them thought the picture was messy; they found the plot confusing and the direction over-stylised. Nowadays, although it is still not considered a great picture, the film has managed to find its place among other cult classics.

The somewhat loose storyline follows a young, handsome sailor, Querelle (Brad Davis), as he arrives in the port of Brest, deals drugs, commits murder and has his first homosexual experiences. Adapted from Jean Genet’s novel Querelle of Brest, Fassbinder’s last film attempts a tricky balance between theatricality, striking visuals and heavy literary influences. This bold cocktail is not very well mixed, but the film should at least be applauded for its distinctive vision. Fassbinder’s brilliant and controversial idea to set the film in a fake set paid off, and it is testament to his talent as a film director that despite the stagey production design, the picture still feels extremely cinematic, thanks to the elegant and fluid camera work, and deep, vibrant colours.

The story takes place in the port of Brest during a seemingly endless (and painted) sunset. In this setting, time seems to be losing its significance. We are not sure if the story we’re watching takes place during one hour, one day, or one week, and this confusion adds to the film’s dream-like quality. This sun that never sets seems to be the film’s greatest symbol; perhaps a metaphor for ambivalence or hesitation, or an undecided state of mind. The film’s protagonist, Querelle, after all seems to be in such state of mind. Dressed in a veil of overbearing masculinity yet burning with homoerotic desires, he is the ideal representative of a world that Fassbinder seems to be mocking, although paradoxically, this dry, serious picture is bereft of humour. This world is based on a self-conscious masculinity and is heavy on pretensions.

These qualities are on full display in the scene where Querelle reunites with his brother after a long time. The two engage in a tender hug, and then, perhaps pressured by the other men’s persistent gazes, they start punching each other on the stomach. Although still not funny in any obvious way, that scene betrays Fassbinder’s bitterly sarcastic take on a ‘macho’ world that tries too hard to hide its many feminine sides. The men have to quarrel. And they have to fight. They even have to kill. But on the other hand they are allowed to have sex with each other. Not to kiss though. And they cannot fall in love with each other. For that would render them ‘fairies’ – weak, and feminine. Querelle shows the struggle of a young man to accept his homosexuality in such a world.

It is unfortunate that the film should get bogged down by its literary influences. Although Fassbinder stripped down the novel’s many and complicated storylines down to the essentials, it is still not enough. When the characters engage in endless philosophical conversations, both story and subtext become harder to follow. In addition to that, there are some confusing choices that don’t really have a clear dramatic pay-off and complicate things unsatisfactorily. The actor’s theatrical performances and the film’s deadpan serious tone and lack of humour do not help matters either.

However, Fassbinder’s bold visual choices make up for the film’s shortcomings. In perfect command of his tools, he makes inventive use of images and sounds to convey messages and emotions, even if some of the plot points and dialogue sidetrack the movie and may take the viewer out of the filmic experience. In all, Querelle might not be a great work of art, but it definitely is a distinctive one. And, in a strange way, that might be a much bigger compliment.

Special DVD/Blu-ray features include the mini-documentary Twilight of the Bodies: Fassbinder in Search of Querelle, as well as a presentation of the film by Volker Schlöndorff.

Pavlos Sifakis