The American Friend (1977)

The art and mastery of deception have been approached by many and accomplished by few. Distinguishing features discerning individuals’ capabilities in this realm include narcissism, antisocial traits, and overall lack of empathy. Those with these aforementioned traits may slide into the world of fraudulence with great ease while those with higher levels of compassion and appreciation of others’ needs undoubtedly experience guilt. However, particular needs, desires, and goals may create drive to bypass emotions associated with guilt to fulfill immoral acts. Wim Winders’ 1977 neo-noir “The American Friend” based on Patricia Highsmith’s 1974 novel “Ripley’s Game” wholeheartedly explores this concept with a humble frame-maker at the epicentre of this dilemma.

Jonathan Zimmermann (Bruno Ganz) is, as already mentioned, an owner of a frame-making shop in Hamburg with an extremely rare hematological malady. He has an initial icy encounter with wealthy American “cowboy” and art forgery extraordinaire Tom Ripley (Dennis Hopper) at an art auction. French gangster Raoul Minot (Gerard Blain) subsequently asks Ripley to kill members of a rival crime syndicate. Displeased by this interaction with the frame-maker, Ripley indirectly rights this disdainful encounter by setting up Zimmermann as a lowly assassin for this purpose. Unsuspecting and honest Zimmermann is thus carefully manipulated and deeply thrust into the once unknown crime underworld with financial coercion.

Many elements of this film create synergy in its effective delivery of suspense and urgency. The slow buildup of knowingly future tense scenes produces a sense of dread, desperation, and bewilderment. I feel that this necessary technique pays homage to the film noir aura, and especially the style of Hitchcock. The dissimilar and plot-enhancing fast-paced train sequence pays homage to “Shadow of a Doubt” and “Strangers on a Train”, the latter which is based on a novel of the same name written by Highsmith. I also believe that he contrasting vast scenery of Hamburg and claustrophobic images within rooms amplify the conflicted and tormented inner selves of the main characters.

Ultimately, Ripley and Zimmermann establish a mutual agreement. Some may even call it a friendship, with Ripley being “the American friend”. However, there is a lack of genuineness and sense of hypocrisy in the contextual use of the word. This amicability was built on lies, murder, initial disrespect, and exploitation. I believe that both used each other as means to an end in their pursuits, which is unfortunately how some so-called “friendships” operate in the real world. Roots of jealousy and conspiracy can grow from either acquaintances or perceivably strong friendships, leading to a destructive snowball effect. It is therefore imperative that honesty, humility, respect, and true care serve as the foundation for any relationship.

americanfriendganzsubway

I do not own the above image.

The Tin Drum (1979)

Childhood is a brief moment in human development whereby purity and innocence are the norm. A significant aspect of that time is spent in the depths of imaginative play with the aid of toys bought by well-meaning adults. The presents’ uses in play purposely and inadvertently serve to shield children from the mundane yet cruel world of adults. As time passes, former children decide whether to cling to the naiveties of their past or to embrace a new adult chapter in their lives with fortitude. The polarizing 1979 film “The Tin Drum” directed by Volker Schlondorff and adapted from the 1959 novel by Gunter Grass explores this struggle in the midst of the impending doom of WWII.

Oskar Matzerath (David Bennent) is introduced into the world with a promise of a tin drum at the age of three. His life leading up to this point is filled with confusion including the true identity of his father as well as the seemingly harsh conundrums adults face. He resolves that he never wants to grow up with the receipt of his tin drum, forcibly falling down a flight of stairs and permanently stunting his growth. Oskar subsequently discovers his talent for shattering glass via high-pierced shrieking, initially using this tool as a means of self-security. However, this aptitude does nothing to protect Oskar against the jarring actualities associated with adultery, death, romance, employment, discrimination, and the inhumanities of the Nazi party. Adulthood is beckoning Oskar; his appearance and his tin drum can no longer shield him.

This film was applauded by critics upon initial release, winning the lauded Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and the Palme d’Or. It was also met with great controversy regarding the portrayal of underage sex. Some aspects of the film were uncomfortable and difficult to watch. However, a blend of satire, comedy, and the contrast between Oskar’s inner fantasy world and the inevitability of living the full spectrum of life provides a very unique means of telling this dark story. We each experience bleakness in our lives, and use of our own versions of ‘tin drums’ as well as time as temporary shields. We may revert to childlike states in these circumstances. It is therefore vital to use a combination of our emotions and technical skills to face these challenges, helping us to feel accomplished and potentially propelling us into the next chapter of our lives.

720full-the-tin-drum-screenshot

I do not own the above image.

 

 

 

Fox and His Friends (1975)

Financial security is necessary for survival by humans in many jurisdictions of Planet Earth. This is usually achieved via employment, careful budgeting, and sometimes luck. This said luck grandiosely amplifies prior to an individual acquiring a great deal of wealth via other means, such as winning the lottery. However, sudden prosperity can evoke emotional confusion, exploitation, misguided self-worth, and a false sense of hope and stability. The dark side of perceived positive outcomes is an idea which many choose to ignore. “Fox and His Friends”, directed in 1975 by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, carefully examines this rollercoaster scenario and somewhat taboo topic.

Franz Bieberkopf a.k.a. “Fox”, played by Fassbinder himself, works as a “talking head” at a local carnival. The employment of all carnival workers is compromised when the owner and partner of Fox, Klaus (Karl Scheydt) is arrested for tax fraud. It is evident that the two share a strong bond, and that the relationship’s forced dissolution could foreshadow a troublesome future. Contrary to these immediate thoughts, Fox wins 500,000 marks in the lottery which seems to be highly prospective in resolving his lack of incoming finances. All must be right in the world in this instance, as he additionally falls into a social circle of prominent, wealthy gay men. Sophistication and self-absorption enamours them, which is quite different from Fox’s original group of friends he more infrequently associates with at a local bar. Ultimately, Fox’s elatedness and naivety fails to dissect the truth of surrounding lies within the new group of “friends”, and a tumultuous journey filled with backstabbing, manipulation, infidelity, greed, dishonesty, and loss of true identity ensues.

I feel as if there is a duality within the title of the film. Fox’s true group of friends remains present as he navigates this new bourgeois way of life. They are also of the same social class as Fox once was, and this creates a common link between them. The title of “friends” for the shinier new assembly is sarcastic and hypocritical, yet Fox is drawn to them as he aspires to bask in their glory and ascend the social class ladder. This facade of bought popularity and love tantalizes many gullible people, especially those who may be in the midst of discovering their true sense of self. Persons in positions of power may swarm to prey upon others to exploit for their own means, as was the case with Fox. Overall, I believe that this film is a strong reminder to the viewers to take quality time to cultivate one’s own personal growth and true relationships. While strong financial planning cannot be underestimated, individual maturation and life experience could potentially assist us to resist the temptation of entering and partaking in a false world.

 

screen-shot-2014-03-31-at-9-39-59-am

I do not own the above image.