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 Berlin in the 1920s-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. Berlin Alexanderplatz chronicles the destruction of this faith, amid the poverty, hypocrisy, and violence of Berlin in the years just before Nazism took full hold. Unable to find work, Franz takes up with the hustler Reinhold (Gottfried John), who becomes his “best friend” and then betrays him in a number of important ways. Franz is also involved with several women during the course of the drama, but when he meets the young prostitute Mieze (Barbara Sukowa), he declares her “his most beloved in all the world.” It is upon losing her that Franz succumbs to despair-and allows himself to be transformed into a “useful member of society.” The film's famous epilogue is Fassbinder's comment on that.
With a hundred leading and supporting actors, including members of Fassbinder's excellent stock company (along with Lamprecht, John, and Sukowa, Hanna Schygulla is featured as Franz's friend Eva and Volker Spengler as the gang leader Pums), Berlin Alexanderplatz is filled with the characters and stories of Döblin's Berlin. And at fifteen and a half hours, it 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.
Berlin Alexanderplatz is divided into thirteen parts and an epilogue, screened at PFA over four evenings. Special admission prices apply for each screening: $13.50, general; $9.50, BAM/PFA members and UC Berkeley students; $10.50, UC Berkeley faculty/staff, non–UC Berkeley students, seniors, and disabled persons.
Berlin Alexanderplatz Passport
Purchase tickets to all four screenings by May 30 and receive a $6 discount! Passport cost is $48, general; $32, BAM/PFA members and UC Berkeley students; $36, other reduced categories.
Alexanderplatz at SFMOMA
Additional screenings of Berlin Alexanderplatz will take place at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, June 5 through 28. Information: www.sfmoma.org.