Eternities Between Many and Few: Part 2
Continuing our month-long discussion of Berlin Alexanderplatz.
Brandon, Dom, Suzanne,
Forgive me for saying so, but I think you’ve been tiptoeing around what all of us experienced as a profoundly disturbing passage of film – the last forty minutes of episode eleven, wherein Franz tries to murder Mieze, the person he loves most, in exactly the same way, in exactly the same place, as he murdered Ida. Indeed Fassbinder insists on this disconcerting repetition, replaying Ida’s murder three times in the previous episodes, investing it with an ominous and totemic power.
If these scenes don’t erase my great enjoyment of the series so far, they certainly transform, violently, the terms of that enjoyment. It’s not just the beating that Franz inflicts. Unbearable as it is, we at least know it is coming. What is so horrible is first the character of Mieze’s anguish – a strangulated screaming that goes on for what feels like minutes. Is any moment in cinema so raw and devastating? Perhaps only Michael Haneke has come close.
Worse still is what happens next. Choking on blood, Mieze immediately forgives him, and they embark for the countryside where first they fell in love. The scenes here verge on the blackest of comedy – Mieze, with split lip and clawed neck, defiantly orders ice cream from her stunned waitress. The profound horror of these moments is in Mieze’s choosing to share in Franz’s crime – her deciding that somehow, to follow Suzanne’s phrasing, their suffering was mutual.
Even as I understand that this is a fiction, I simply cannot bear her choice. Yet it speaks to the power of Fassbinder’s mini-series, that it gets so under my skin.
To answer quickly a question Dom posed to me during the screening, about the character of the political rally Franz and Willy attend in episode nine: Could it be that these strange creatures were anarcho-syndicalists? Syndicalism was a going concern in Germany in the late 20s, though many like Rudolph Rocker and Milly Witkop fled the country in the early 30s, after the Nazis came to power.