Set in the near future. After one of his colleagues dies mysteriously, a scientist named Fred Stiller decides to investigate further. He uncovers a conspiracy that could alter the fabric of reality as he knows it.
I’ve been getting into Fassbinder (“Fox and His Friends”) more lately. I feel like he was a director who worked incredibly diligently (he made over forty films and a handful of television shows before he died at the age of thirty-seven), and thus far, I haven’t seen a picture from him that I’ve disliked. I like Fassbinder for his inventiveness, for the rebellious qualities of his films (many of his films were funded by the West German Government, yet he frequently would write subtle satire into his films criticizing the faults in their system), and for the subtle and often dark humor he weaves into his stories.
“World on a Wire” is in a way 100% Fassbinder, and also nothing like I’ve ever seen him before. This film feels part “Brazil”, part “Fahrenheit 451”, part “1984”, part “The Matrix”, part “Solaris (1972)”, but at the same time it feels completely unique. This movie is at times so tense and other times so absurd that by the time you get to the end you feel as if you’ve gone on a roller coaster ride. It’s also one of the rarer Fassbinder films; from 1973 until the early 2000s it was impossible to find. Only recently, thanks to Criterion, has this film been widely distributed. And thank goodness. This is definitely a movie that deserves an audience.
“I don’t believe Vollmar’s death was an accident”
After the mysterious death of Professor Henri Vollmer (Adrian Hoven, “Berlin Alexanderplatz”), his colleague Fred Stiller (Klaus Lowitsch, “Cross of Iron”) decides to investigate. As he delves further into Simulacrom, the project Vollmer was working on, he discovers a conspiracy theory that seems too absurd to be real. Finding more and more proof, Stiller chases leads… If he’s right about this conspiracy it will mean the unraveling of reality as we know it.
So before I really get started, let me say that this isn’t actually a movie; it’s a two-part TV-movie (like “It (1990)”), and it aired as a two hour-and-forty-five minute episodes. But just because this was a TV movie doesn’t mean the quality is anything less than top notch; I would actually say this is one of the better Fassbinder films I’ve seen.
I would argue this film rivals Tarkovsky’s “Solaris” when it comes to thoughtful sci-fi thrillers. This movie starts out as quest for truth behind the murder of a friend, but by the time we reach the end, the film becomes a deconstruction of the nature of our reality and our relationship with its creator. In questioning the nature of reality, Fassbinder is able to craft a world that feels, simultaneously, real and unreal. Why is it that people suddenly vanish in the middle of conversations, or vanish entirely to the point that everyone who once knew them now denies their existence? How can streets randomly disappear, and why do pallets of bricks drop from the sky to crush presumably innocent civilians? As Fred tugs at more threads, the unraveling of his own reality seems to be too much for him, and we’re left to wonder if he’s gone mad (we get a definite answer by the end).
I love Fassbinder’s cinematography. All of the films (or television shows) I’ve watched from him have been shot in TV aspect ratios, his cameras have often been 16 mm, and the transfers (even the very best of them) have been dubious. However, watching a film with incredibly inventive cinematography makes up for all of the lesser technical stuff. I’ve noticed that, while Fassbinder occasionally will move his cameras on a dolly or even handheld, most of the time he likes to lock down his camera on a tripod and swivel around the room, sometimes with pretty dramatic and dynamic results. In this film in particular, he used multiple shots with mirrors or glass reflecting double images (which comes symbolically into play later in the film when Fred discovers more about the true nature of the computer program Simulacrom).
I do admit that while the pacing of this film felt a bit uneven when viewed from a traditional sense, it makes more sense when you consider that it was originally meant to be viewed as a two-part TV episode. If you were to look at this movie as a whole, the pacing and tension really ramps near the middle, and then slacks off for about forty-five minutes, then ramps up again towards the end.
There are a few questionable acting choices that sometimes result in hilarity. I don’t think all of the actors Fassbinder worked with were professionals, and with some of the minor characters in this film you can definitely tell. Overall, however, the acting was fairly solid. Our protagonist had one or two incredibly melodramatic moments, but other than that he did fine. There were a few other Fassbinder regulars that I recognized from “Eight Hours Don’t Make a Day” and “Fox and His Friends” too, and they, as always, did fine jobs.
While I will admit that from the perspective of a modern movie-goer this film might be a touch artsy and maybe a bit slow, but for those cinephiles well-versed in movies that delve into metaphysical and psychological questions I’m sure this film will be an absolute delight. It’s always a treat when you find a director you vibe with, and Fassbinder is certainly one of those directors for me. I’m sure you’ll see more reviews of his films coming in the future.
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