FOX AND HIS FRIENDS (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1975)

Five years prior to his masterpiece about Franz Biberkopf (Berlin Alexanderplatz, 1980), Rainer Werner Fassbinder himself (brilliantly) plays another Franz Biberkopf in Faustrecht der Freiheit—literally, Fist-Fight of Freedom. Franz has a nickname, which is spelled out in studs on the back of his faded denim jacket: Fox. This suggests how clever the boy thinks he is. However, his alcoholic sister, Hedwig, is on the mark when she calls him “stupid and primitive.”
     Fortune seems to shine on the working-class gay when he wins 500,000 marks—over a million U.S. dollars—in a lottery. He even acquires an elegant, educated lover. Ah, but Fox doesn’t know where to find the dessert fork he is supposed to use instead of his hands. He even tears bread into his lobster bisque! Worse, Eugen fleeces Fox out of his fortune—and subtly too, with Fox innocently helping Eugen in doing it. Fox saves Eugen’s father’s printing/bookbinding company, for which Eugen and he work, but Eugen cheats Fox out of both his 100,000-mark loan and even his pay. All the while Fox believes he is self-determining and, early on at least, happy.
     Fassbinder directs (from a script by himself and Christian Hohoff) unsentimentally, highly analytically. His film, as smooth as silk, proceeds as though keyed to how well Fox thinks he is doing rather than how he is actually being screwed. The disintegration of his partnership with Eugen and the evaporation of his fortune take a heavy toll. Gus Van Sant may have had Fox’s fate in mind toward the end of My Own Private Idaho (1991).
     Fassbinder metaphorically demonstrates the pernicious course of capitalism, which seemingly confers rewards on those who work hard while robbing them blind for the institutionalized benefit of their “betters.”


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