6 August 2018



This is Rainer Werner Fassbinder's masterpiece, a fifteen-hour film set in Germany in the 1920s that originally aired as a German miniseries on German television in 1980. The hero is an ordinary man called Franz Biberkopf and, in my first part of the review of this film, we meet him coming out of prison where he's served four years for the so-called 'manslaughter' of his live-in girlfriend, Ida.

I say 'manslaughter' because, in the many flashbacks to this scene, we see Franz, a big burly alpha male type, beat the diminutive blonde Ida to death with his fists and a piece of kitchen equipment. It looks like murder to me, the kind of thing for which you'd normally get life in prison.

It's so funny (funny odd, not funny funny!) the way that Franz's friends and acquaintances all say things like how it was such bad luck what happened to Ida, as if it were a random stroke of ill-fortune that felled poor Ida and not Franz's fists aimed deliberately at her face and body. I do love Franz as a character but it's a bit hard to condone this type of thing, obviously.

Anyway, Franz serves his time inside and such is his power to get the opposite sex on his side that his landlady, Mrs. Bast, takes him back as her lodger straightaway. This, despite the fact that she witnessed Ida's bloodied corpse for herself on the apartment floor when she walked in on Franz leaning over the body, his fists bloody and his guilt evident for all to see.

Franz spends the first few instalments of the film trying to get his life back on track. You might remember that he immediately acquires a live-in lover-cum-cleaning lady for himself in the form of Lina, a damaged woman whom he picks up in his local pub. He tries to find work for himself, which isn't easy in Germany back then, and here's why.

The country was in the grip of a massive depression at the time. The words 'unemployment' and 'inflation' are synonymous with the Germany of the day. That's one of the reasons Hitler and the Nazi party were able to grab power in 1933. They saw what was happening in the country and they promised the voters 'Arbeit Und Brot,' or work and bread, which was all that men like Franz were asking for.

After a brief stint selling the VOLKISCHE BEOBACHTER, the anti-Semitic newspaper of the then-developing Nazi Party, Franz is once more on the unemployment line with about half the men of Germany for company. He devotes his time to boozing and engaging in complicated affairs with women, who are drawn to Franz like me to the opening of a packet of biscuits, lol.

When we come in again in Instalment Four, Franz seems determined to drink himself to death after breaking up with Lina. His so-called best friend Meck was kind enough to jump into Franz's shoes- and his bed- the second Franz turned his back, but Franz doesn't bear any ill-will against Meck. His attitude to women has always been 'easy come, easy go.'

Listen to this as proof of how much the women love Franz. A beautiful prostitute called Eva, for whom Franz used to pimp, pays Franz's rent in Mrs. Bast's house the whole four years he was in prison. She does the same for him while he's in the horrors with the drink this time around. She's always available for sex with Franz and it's obvious she loves him to bits. He inspires that kind of devotion in women. Treat 'em mean, keep 'em keen, eh?

When Franz finally comes out of his drunken stupor, he meets an ugly little poisonous man in the pub (where else?) called Reinhold. Reinhold is a cowardly little shit who persuades Franz to take first one, then another, of his own mistresses off his hands because he's tired of them and doesn't want the hassle of breaking up with them, if you can believe that, the little prick.

Franz is happy to oblige and has many a happy hour getting the most out of the two comely
enough exes, Franze and Cilly, before Cilly (Cilly by name and silly by nature, huh?) ends up back with the odious Reinhold. Well, she's a grown woman. She can make her own decisions. And her own mistakes...

Another consequence of Franz's association with Reinhold costs him dearly. Reinhold is a gangster whose boss, Pums, takes a liking to Franz and involves him in a 'job' they're pulling off. Franz isn't much cop at being the gang's 'lookout' and he loses his right arm when he's pushed out of a moving car during the heist or whatever it is.

Franz, the big cheery 'hail fellow well met' character who always tries to bounce back when he's down, makes jokes about his amputated arm but we get the impression he's not as happy about it as he makes out. Well. How could he be? It's his right arm, for Chrissakes.

He probably feels like half a man now, working at shit jobs like being a carousel barker (he'd be the guy who shouts 'roll up, roll up!' and gets people onto the attraction) that don't require a man to have two arms and moping around the apartment with only his faithful prostitute-lover Eva and her boyfriend/john/new pimp Herbert for company.

And there's always the booze. Franz and the booze go back a long way. Now he's talking to it like it's an old friend which, in a way, it is. He likes to wander through what I call 'Prostitute Alley' as well. This is literally an alley, barred to minors, where naked or topless prostitutes, not all of whom are fair of face, jiggle their wares aggressively in Franz's face and try to part him from his few Deutschmarks. Oddly enough, though, he's not terribly interested at the moment.

Franz, no longer a young man and now, disabled to boot, is clearly lacking direction. He meets a sneaky little crook called Willy in the pub (that's where he meets everyone!) and decides to join with him in his dirty little stolen goods business. Wanna buy a watch? You know the type of thing. Franz obviously feels it's about all he's up to at the moment, with just the one arm. 

But whatever happened to the oath he swore when he came out of prison to only ever go straight again? It looks like Franz feels like there's not much point in keeping it anymore. Going straight is for schmucks, right? Guy never got rich going straight. 

We know ourselves that there's more to life than getting rich but maybe Franz is tired of being dirt-poor, one of those between-the-wars forgotten men. We don't know anything yet about Franz's record in World War One but we do witness the hilarious moment when he declares he's bought an Iron Cross to account to people for his missing arm, the dirty liar...!

Franz is on the verge of another life-changing moment, but he doesn't know it yet. Eva thinks he needs a new woman to raise his spirits, among other things, lol. The resourceful Eva's already found someone she deems suitable, although why she's fixing Franz up with someone who might be a threat to herself, Eva, is a mystery to me.

Her gift to Franz is a beautiful, shy young woman whom Franz christens 'Mieze.' It looks to me like he falls for her immediately because of her looks. She falls for him too. They go for walks in the woods together and she buys him a canary. It's love all right, lol.

Then one day a love letter from another man arrives for Mieze at Franz's flat. Franz reads it and freaks out. Has the soft, yielding Mieze got a lover? Franz doesn't care that he's violated Mieze's privacy by opening her letters. When it comes to love letters from another man arriving at his flat for his Mieze, that's where he apparently draws the line. Harrumph.

What's next for Franz and his beautiful Mieze? She's played by gorgeous German actress Barbara Sukowa (HANNAH ARENDT- 2012), by the way, a favourite actress of Fassbinder's who also played his Lola in the film of the same name. She's so glamorous and exotic-looking, even today, nearly forty years later, that I must admit to having a huge girl-crush on her myself.

She was brilliant in HANNAH ARENDT, the 2012 film about the German-born philosopher and political thinker who covered the 1961 trial of Nazi criminal Adolf Eichmann for the NEW YORKER. Hannah Arendt spent a lot of time in the film taking her glasses on and off while chain-smoking and staring into space for hours on end, thinking. Barbara Sukowa captured these mannerisms so well on screen! 

So, do Franz and Mieze, thrown together by Eva, have a future together? Is Franz done with the odious Reinhold and Reinhold's criminal boss Pums? Well, you'll either have to buy the film for yourself and find out that way or you can wait for me to finish watching it and keep y'all updated. Either way is good for me, lol. We'll meet again soon and catch up. Xxx.

BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ: THE LIMITED EDITION BLU-RAY BOX-SET is available to buy now courtesy of SECOND SIGHT FILMS. It comes with a plethora of fantastic extra features (listed below) and it might just be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get your hands on this masterpiece in its nine-hundred-minute splendour and luxurious entirety. Don't miss out...!

  • Limited edition deluxe box set (2000 copies only)
  • 'Fassbinder: Love Without Demands’ - The acclaimed 2015 feature length documentary by Christian Braad Thomsen
  • An appreciation by writer and critic Tony Rayns
  • Berlin Alexanderplatz - A Visual Essay by Daniel Bird
  • A Mega Movie and its Story’ documentary by Juliane Lorenz
  • • ‘The Making of Berlin Alexanderplatz’
  • 'The Restoration' documentary including ‘before and after’
  • The Original Recaps
  • Berlinale 2007 trailer
  • 60-page perfect bound book featuring new essay by Cahiers Du Cinema’s Stephane du Mesnildot and archive material by Wim Wenders, Thomas Elsasser and Christian Braad Thomsen

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:


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