VERONIKA VOSS (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1982)

Die Sehnsucht der Veronika Voss, writer-director Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s penultimate film, concludes his Bundesrepublik Deutschland (BRD) Trilogy addressing the spiritual and moral price that West Germany had paid for its postwar economic recovery and its military revival, ironically, at the behest of the U.S. and Western Europe, which felt threatened by Soviet communism. Adenauer, Eisenhower, NATO: listen to the radio in the background of this very bleak black-and-white film, which doubles as Fassbinder’s homage to Billy Wilder, at least three of whose films, A Foreign Affair (1948), Sunset Boulevard (1950) and The Apartment (1960), allusively crop up. But be forewarned: there isn’t a laugh to be had here. With its finishing touch of Luchino Visconti’s The Damned (1969), Fassbinder’s mordant film ends with Veronika’s suicide by drug overdose—this, shortly before Fassbinder, 37, ended his own life in the same way.
     In fifties Munich, Voss is a movie star trying to make a comeback. During the war, her career was in high gear, but now its decline is dictated by the dogging political shadow of her former success. Indeed, Voss carries along with her a symbolical remnant of the Third Reich: neurologist Dr. Katz, whose all but whited-out offices—a parody of the racist visual design of Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977)—are a domain of patient drugging and manipulation, along with capitalistic moneymaking, and where suicide-prone Voss is frequently a “guest.” On the one hand, Voss longs for independence; on the other, she succumbs to the slavery that Katz exacts. Count Voss a skeleton in her nation’s closet as well as in her own.
     Although visually dazzling, this is one of Fassbinder’s murkiest, least accessible films. Its high point, at a farewell party, finds Veronika singing a darkly ironical song à la Dietrich.

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