Fox and his Friends (1975)

“There are drunks lying everywhere! The state should do something. It’s the same everywhere. In Helsinki recently, there were so many drunks lying around even though it’s hard to get alcohol in Finland.”

‘Fox and his Friends’, directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder in 1975, is a German drama starring the director as a naïve, semi-literate homosexual taking advantage of by his friends. Franz Bieberkopf (Fox), played by Fassbinder, is a working class man who loses his job at a carnival. He turns to sex work and makes enough to buy a lottery ticket with which he wins a substantial amount of money. A while later, Bieberkopf becomes involved in a circle of affluent homosexuals who, when they discover he has money, bleed him dry. The film is mostly concerned with the pain of watching the innocent Bieberkopf being abused and manipulated under the pretence of being ‘civilized’ by his friends. It’s a brave and, at times, outrageous film that, as with the other movies by Fassbinder I’ve seen, focusses on the seedy and dark corners of society. The storyline (a man down on his luck wins the lottery) is one that has usually been employed in lighter films, but here the director’s cynicism means that it becomes the catalyst for bringing the worst out in the characters. Curiously, the blankest character is Bieberkopf himself. Ironically given that he is played by the director, Bieberkopf seems directionless, his innocence making him appear like a witless but likeable doll. The film is highly politicised, and Fassbinder’s uncompromising depiction of the homosexual subculture that he is a part, is ground-breaking. This story could have been told about any set of relationships, but the director choses to focus on this particular community without comment or recognition that in 1975 this was taboo-busting. This alone make the film worth watching.

Would I recommend it? So far, my relationship with the grim and cynical Fassbinder has been rocky. This movie is more engaging than his ‘comedy’ ‘Satan’s Brew’, but doesn’t match the raw emotion of ‘Ali: Fear Eats the Soul’. I’d oddly watch it in a double bill with ‘Being There’, the character of  Bieberkopf reminds me a little of the innocent and otherworldly Chauncey Gardiner.

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