Berlin Alexanderplatz, Parts I–III

I: The Punishment Begins (Die Strafe beginnt). II: How Is One to Live If One Doesn't Want to Die? (Wie soll man leben, wenn man nicht sterben will?). III: A Hammer Blow on the Head Can Injure the Soul (Ein Hammer auf den Kopf kann die Seele verletzen)

Restored in 2006, Berlin Alexanderplatz is the summa of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's art, and the culmination of his lifelong relationship to Alfred Döblin's monumental novel of 1920s Berlin-a book the filmmaker said was “embedded in my mind, my flesh, my body as a whole, and my soul.” Fassbinder pours knowing tenderness into the characterization of Franz Biberkopf (Günter Lamprecht), an unemployed lumpen worker who earns his living as a thief and pimp following a stint in jail for murdering his mistress. Franz is a jovial if explosive figure in the Alexanderplatz district of Berlin, a man with optimistic dreams, a determination to “go straight,” and an absurd faith in love. The film chronicles the destruction of this faith, amid the poverty, hypocrisy, and violence of Berlin in the years just before Nazism took full hold.

At fifteen and a half hours, Berlin Alexanderplatz comes closer than most film experiences to the engagement that a good novel offers. The beauty, richness, and cohesion of Fassbinder's style can here be fully appreciated as it links one chapter to the next.

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