Satan’s Brew

One of the most bizarre movies I’ve ever seen by one of the most refreshingly bold filmmakers of the past forty years, Rainer Werner Fassbinder. I love Fassbinder because he doesn’t give a rat’s ass what you think. Satan’s Brew might not be a coherent or even compelling narrative, but there’s so much kinetic lunacy in every frame of it that it’s hard to look away — Fassbinder has made a car wreck of a movie but it’s a beautiful car wreck. And I have to hand it to his repertory of actors — they’re fearless and fantastic, willing to go to the extremes of the comic and the grotesque towards with their director bids them.

The movie is, vaguely speaking, about a delusional and destitute poet, his cynical wife and his idiot man-child of a brother (at least I think it’s his brother). When the poet’s editor refuses to advance him any more money till his book is finished and when the prostitutes he frequents refuse him service, he goes to his sugar mama — a sexual masochist — who he accidentally kills (or does he?) in a fit of passion. Anyway, it’s not long after that a detective comes snooping around and the poet himself is seized by the delusion that he is a reincarnation of a 19th German Romantic poet. His new “identity” draws a small but fanatic group of devotees towards him, whom he orders about and abuses, just as his man-child brother attracts and kills flies for his fetishistic reasons. Meanwhile, the wife cooks and cleans and slowly wears away. Still, the insanity continues and Fassbinder doesn’t relent, throwing at us one twisted bit of melodrama after another–the movie feels like a parody of a serious movie and that’s what so fun about it.

Fassbinder has serious themes at work here about the cult of celebrity and our blind adherence to it, about man’s cruelty, stupidity and the bleakness of life in a lockstep society — his great and lifelong themes. If you’re new to Fassbinder, this one may catch you off-guard, but if you love the guy, here’s another to scratch your head over and chuckle mischievously along with.

Grade: B

Directed by: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Written by: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Cast: Kurt Raab, Margit Carstensen, Helen Vita, Volker Spengler, Ingrid Craven, Y Sa Lo

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