Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder and written by Fassbinder, Pea Frolich, and Peter Marthesheimer, Veronika Voss is the story of a once-revered starlet who has faded in obscurity in 1955 Munich as she begins a relationship with a sportswriter while dealing with events that lead to her declining career. The second film (third film chronologically) of a trilogy of films about women and their identities in postwar Germany as it is partially based on the life of actress Sybille Schmitz who was a popular actress though her association with the Third Reich lead to the end of her own acting career as the titular character is played by Rosel Zech. Also starring Hilmar Thate, Cornelia Froboess, Annemarie Duringer, and Armin Mueller-Stahl. Veronika Voss is an intoxicating yet eerie film from Rainer Werner Fassbinder.
The film revolves around a once-famous actress during the days of Nazism as she has faded into obscurity where she meets a sports reporter as she deals with an escalating morphine addiction and delusions about returning to her film career. It is a film that is about a woman who is eager to return to the world of film but is unable to deal with reality as she also dependent on a neurologist who is feeding her morphine addiction. The film’s screenplay has a narrative that is largely straightforward but also bits of flashbacks as it play into the life that the titular character once had but also a life she wants to be part of. The film opens with her at a screening at one of her older films as she remembers the time she was filming it as she was this big star whose films were funded by the Nazis until the end of the war as she had faded into obscurity. Upon meeting the sports reporter Robert Krohn (Hilmar Thate) at a bus during a rainy night, she is surprised that he has no idea who she is or was as they become friends where Krohn learns more about her.
Yet, he is also wondering if some of the things she says are true where he learns that she frequently visits a neurologist in Dr. Marianne Katz (Annemarie Duringer) who is treating her. Still, Krohn is unsure about Dr. Katz’s methods including the fact that she’s supplying Veronika’s morphine addiction where his concerns for her begins an affair. The affair would be tumultuous where Krohn’s girlfriend Henriette (Cornelia Froboess) becomes suspicious about Voss yet is fascinated by her lifestyle and life while is also becoming aware that another of Dr. Katz’s patients are involved with opiates. The addiction would only increase Veronika’s own delusions including claims she is to come back though the reality is far more troubling as her ex-husband in screenwriter Max Rehbein (Armin Mueller-Stahl) warns Robert to not to get too close.
Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s direction definitely has style as it evokes elements of classical old Hollywood films with its stylish lighting and presentation while playing up this world of postwar West Germany as it is shot on location in and around Munich. There is an element of style in Fassbinder’s compositions in the way he would frame his actors in a shot as well as the presentation of a room or a restaurant where he would use a lot of wide and medium shots to capture the scope of the locations but also the world that Voss lives in. There are close-ups in the film that do play into the melodrama while there are also some stylish shots including a few slanted camera angles as it add to this warped reality that Voss is in. Even as there’s flashbacks of the life she once had as there’s a scene at her apartment as it’s full of posh antiques and such while it then cuts to the apartment without all of those things as she’s spending time with Robert who gets a closer look into her troubled mental state.
Fassbinder also evokes elements of suspense as it relates to Robert trying to find out about Voss’s mental state, her past as an actress supported by the Nazis, and her time with Dr. Katz. Notably as there are these offbeat elements as Dr. Katz’s office as it feels like this posh hospital which includes an American GI (Gunther Kaufmann) helping her out as he barely says anything. It’s among these quirks that Fassbinder puts in as well as the fact that Robert is somewhat out of his element since he’s a sports reporter but he’s determined to seek out the truth. Even in the third act where there is this absurdity as it relates to Dr. Katz’s methods and this sense of an end for Voss who is forced to accept reality about her fleeting fame. Overall, Fassbinder crafts a majestic yet haunting film about an actress’ descent into madness in her attempt to return to the world of films.
Cinematographer Xaver Schwarzenberger does incredible work with the film’s black-and-white photography with its dazzling usage of interior lights for some of the flashbacks and interior settings including Dr. Katz’s office as well as some stylish exterior shading for some of the scenes at night. Editor Juliane Lorenz does brilliant work with the editing as its stylish usage of transition wipes help play into the film’s stylistic presentation along with some rhythmic cuts to play into the suspense and drama. Production designer Rolf Zehetbauer and art director Walter Richarz do excellent work with the look of the places the characters go to including the stylish apartment office that Dr. Katz lives in as well as Voss’ home in its glory days and ruined state. Costume designer Barbara Baum does fantastic work with the costumes as it features a lot of the stylish and expensive clothing Voss wears as well as the ragged look of Robert in his ordinary suit and such.
The makeup work of Anni Nobauer and Gerd Nemetz is terrific as it play into the beauty of Voss but also moments where she becomes mad where the makeup starts to fade away. The sound work of Vladimir Vizner is superb for the way some of the sparse moments sound at Dr. Katz’s office as well as the volume of the music as well as maintaining a natural approach to the sound. The film’s music by Peer Raben is amazing for its offbeat score that is this mixture of country and the pop music of the times with some eerie piano-based pieces while the soundtrack features elements of American country and standards music that often plays on the radio or sung by Voss.
The film’s wonderful ensemble cast feature some notable small roles and appearances from Rainer Werner Fassbinder as a man at a movie theater sitting behind Voss, editor Juliane Lorenz as a secretary, Volker Spengler and Peter Zadek as a couple of film directors Voss would work with as the former during her prime and the latter in her comeback attempt, Hans Wyprachtiger as Robert’s editor-in-chief, Elisabeth Volkmann as a co-worker of Robert in Grete, Sonja Neudorfer as a saleswoman at a posh restaurant, Lilo Pempeit as a manager of the restaurant who recognizes Voss, Gunther Kauffman as an American GI who works for Dr. Katz, Johanna Hofer and Rudolf Platte as an old couple who are patients of Dr. Katz, Peter Berling as a film producer who wants to help Voss in finding the right role for her comeback, and Erik Schumann as Dr. Edel who is an associate of Dr. Katz.
Doris Schade is fantastic as Dr. Katz’s assistant Josefa who does a lot to lie and help out Dr. Katz as well as also do a lot of the cleaning up. Armin Mueller-Stahl is superb as Voss’ ex-husband/screenwriter Max Rehbein as a man who used to bring the best in her as he would warn Robert about getting too close to her knowing a lot about her madness up close. Annemarie Duringer is excellent as Dr. Marianne Katz as a neurologist who is treating Voss in order to deal with her madness though she has ulterior motives of her own while her own methods including supplying morphine to Voss makes her a chilling figure in the film. Cornelia Froboess is brilliant as Robert’s girlfriend Henriette as a woman who is fascinated by Voss though is troubled by her drug abuse, association with the Nazis, and the methods of Dr. Katz where she tries to get proof of her abuse.
Hilmar Thate is amazing as Robert Krohn as a sports writer who meets Voss though has no clue of who she is as he gets to know her only to put himself in trouble as it relates to Dr. Katz where he also deals with her troubling methods. Finally, there’s Rosel Zech in a tremendous performance as the titular character as this once-famous actress during the era of Nazism who deals with her fading celebrity and growing dependency on morphine as she meets this man hoping he would help her where Zech displays that aura around her as someone who is this great yet controversial figure but is one step away from just losing it.
Veronika Voss is a phenomenal film from Rainer Werner Fassbinder that features a spectacular performance from Rosel Zech in the titular role. Along with its ensemble cast, dazzling presentation, study of fading stardom and madness, and its offbeat yet riveting music score and soundtrack. The film is a ravishing film that explores a woman dealing with her own madness as well as trying to get a writer to help her only to bring more trouble. In the end, Veronika Voss is a sensational film from Rainer Werner Fassbinder.
Rainer Werner Fassbinder Films: Love is Colder Than Death - (Katzelmacher) - (Why Does Herr R. Run Amok?) - (Rio das Mortes) - (The American Soldier) - (Whity) - (Beware of a Holy Whore) - The Merchant of Four Seasons - The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant - Eight Hours Don’t Make a Day - (Jailbait) - World on a Wire - Ali: Fear Eats the Soul - (Martha (1974 film)) - (Effi Briest) - (Fox and His Friends) - (Mother Kuster’s Trip to Heaven) – (I Only Want You to Love Me) – Satan's Brew - (Chinese Roulette) - (Germany in Autumn) - (Despair) - (In a Year of 13 Moons) – The Marriage of Maria Braun - (Third Generation) - (Berlin Alexanderplatz) - (Lili Marleen) - Lola (1981 film) - Querelle
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