4 DECEMBER 1976, Page 32


Family way

Clancy Sigal

Wild Game (Pans Pullman, Phoenix) The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner (Paris Pullman, Phoenix) I Will, I Will . . . For Now (Leicester Square Theatre) London Film Festival Rainer Werner Fassbinder is perhaps the leading figure of the Renaissance in West German films. In the past eight years he has completed twenty-three features, most of them unseen in Britain. His reputation here rests mainly on Fear Eats the Soul, an austere story of a love affair between a young Moroccan 'guest-worker' and a middle-aged German hausfrau. Unsentimental, its anger shaped and controlled by Fassbinder's technique of short, sharp takes and low-key, almost bloodless performances, Fear Eats the Soul had a tenderness one rarely sees in film these days.

Certainly not in his Wild Game( Paris Pullman and Phoenix, East Finchley, X certificate). It's ugly but impressive, unsubtle and extremely disturbing.

Hanni (unsparingly played by Eva Mattes) is the fat, sexy fourteen-year-old daughter of a German lorry driver and his droopy, whining wife. Father fancies daughter, mother is bitterly but passively jealous. The atmosphere in the Schneider apartment is bleakly respectable, even religious. Though themselves seething with fifty-seven varieties of repressed passion, the parents stubbornly insist on bringing up Hanni strictly. A pawn in their quiet war, Hanni cuddles up to her doting father, ignores her mother, and is always careful to present herself shrewdly as what she appears to be: a nice little schoolgirl without a spark of threatening libido in those round innocent eyes.

She is, of course, anyone's for the asking. Frantz, a nineteen-year-old chicken-gutter in a local slaughterhouse, whistles once from his flash motorbike, and Hanni willingly agrees to be devirginised by him. She loves sex, and poor Frantz—as slim and mopey as James Dean whom he's aping—soon acquires a faintly exhausted, hangdog look. When the police discover their affair, Frantz is jailed for nine months. His punishment— and the fury of Hanni's deceived father-seals their 'love.'

From then on it's almost a step-by-step replay of Terence Malick's Badlands, also about a schoolgirl and her older boyfriend who, as in a dream, kill her, father and set out for Canada, towards 'some magic land beyond the law.' With the same manipulative coolness that she used to semi-seduce her father, Hanni—now pregnant—buys a gun and goads Frantz into shooting Schneider. There's a truly horrible moment when, after the murder, Frantz has to drag a hysterically laughing Hanni away from her father's bullet-riddled corpse in the forest. At their trial Hanni calmly tells Frantz that her child was born deformed and dead. Then she turns away from him in the hallway of the court to resume a game of hopscotch.

Badlands was about the subliminal power of pop fantasy to inspire real violence; the bored boy and girl in it could sustain their vision of themselves as James Dean and Natalie Wood only by freezing any sense of guilt or mercy. Though Fassbinder too plays with the pop motif—Frantz dresses like Marlon Brando in The Wild One—his target is both more personal and political. It is, in fact, Hanni's parents, whom Fassbinder cannot seem to forgive for having been born of the war generation. Herr Schneider yearns for the good old Nazi days when a punk like Hanni's lover would have been castrated. 'Rather 100,000 gassed Jews and a clean daughter,' he mutters. Frau Schneider tuttuts him by reminding him that the Nazis weren't all good.

Factually, I accept Fassbinder's point: there must be millions of Schneiders still left in Germany. Dramatically, it's harder to swallow. Partly because of Eva Mattes's chilling performance as the amorally murderous daughter, I was sucked down into Fassbinder's dark and penetrating vision of lower middle-class German life. But somehow I felt that the director cheated by blaming Hanni—and by implication much else on parents who were, after all, also victims. There is something eerily unsettling about watching a film whose maker one feels is almost as cruel and cold-eyed as his villain.

On the same bill The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner (U certificate) is by another wonderboy of the new German cinema, Werner Herzog (Caspar Hauser). Walter Steiner, a woodcarver by trade, also happens to be the world's champion skijumper. He is an engagingly modest young man, with a comic gnome's face, who—like most real champions—is scared a lot of the time. Most of the fifty-minute documentary was shot on the giant ramp at Planica, Yugoslavia, where Steiner prepared for the 1973 championships. Angrily, he tells Herzog's camera that the Yugoslav officials are trying to kill him by lengthening and freezing the run to make it even faster. 'They let me jump too far. ... They say the Yugoslav people will despise me if I don't do it.' Despite a concussion, Steiner wtnt on to make a recordbreaking jump. Herzog's film is best when Steiner is complaining about the pressures on him; it is most suspect when, like Riefenstahl's Olympiad, it makes a religious With Mel Frank, Norman Panama made some of the Hope-Crosby Road films. On his own, Mr Panama, who has now written

and directed / / Will . . . For Now (Leicester Square Theatre, X certificate) seems incapable of such innocent humour. Elliott Gould and Diane Keaton go to .a California sex clinic to solve their domestic problems. It's ghastly.

At the London Film Festival, Truffaut 's The Storyof Adele H is superb. It concerns the totally obsessional love of Victor Hugo s daughter for a young English lieutenant whom she pursues across several oceans. It's really about a vacuum in the romantic heroine: the need of a woman to give point and purpose to an unlived life. Bryan Forbes's The Stepford Wives, which is fight. ing for a commercial release, has excellent performances by Katherine Ross and es" pecially Paula Prentiss as wives who are turned into domestic robots to please men. Not entirely successful, but head and shoulders above most of what EMI and Rank dish out these days. I disliked, but was absorbed by, the Maysles brothers documentary Grey Gardens which pitilessly exposes an eccentric Kennedy relative and her middle-aged daughter in their decaYing Long Island mansion. Ginime Shelter, the Maysles film about the Rolling Stones, left me feeling similarlyexploited and fascinated. All three pictures deserve immediate openings.