Written, directed, and scored by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Handler der vier Jahreszeiten (The Merchant of Four Seasons) is the story of a fruit vendor who struggles to make ends meet as he had lost his prestige as he deals with his social and emotional decline. The film is a comedy-drama that plays into a man who was once a war veteran and a policeman who deals with his new role in life. Starring Hans Hirschmuller, Irm Hermann, Andrea Schober, Gusti Kreissl, Kurt Raab, Heide Simon, Ingrid Caven, and Hanna Schygulla. Handler der vier Jahreszeiten is a riveting and somber film from Rainer Werner Fassbinder.
Set in early 1950s Munich, the film follows a former policeman who had returned from the French Foreign Legion years ago as he struggles with his new life working as a fruit vendor as he laments over his marriage, the disdain he gets from his family, his longing for his former lover, and the state of his own life. It is a film that is a character study of sorts that plays into a man who is likeable and was doing well as a policeman until an incident began this downward spiral as well as being rejected by the love of his life where he would marry someone else and have a child only to treat them horribly. Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s screenplay follows the plight of its protagonist Hans Epp (Hans Hirschmuller) who is first seen arriving from his service for the French Foreign Legion to see his mother (Gusti Kreissl) who isn’t happy that he’s home as she laments over a friend of his who had died and thought he was a better person as it sets the tone for the many hardships, criticism, and chaos that would loom for Hans.
Notably as it shifts to a few years later where Hans is peddling fruit on a cart with his wife Irmgard (Irm Hermann) who is taller and skinnier than him as they struggle to make ends meet as they have a daughter in Renate (Andrea Schober). Still, Hans is struggling to reconnect with his former flame (Ingrid Caven) who is already married and with a life of her own while he still ponders about his own life and how underwhelming it is. Even as he returns drunk as he laments about his past and comes home beating up Irmgard who goes to his mother and sisters where Hans would have a heart attack. Irmgard would reluctantly go back to Hans and help him run his fruit merchant business by getting someone else to do the job since Hans is unable to due to his health. Yet, things become complicated with Hans lamenting once again about his own existence and what he means to the people around him.
Fassbinder’s direction is largely straightforward in terms of its setting and location as it is shot in Munich while it also emphasizes a lot of characteristics similar to the American melodramas of Douglas Sirk. Notably in a scene where Hans goes to his mother’s house to apologize to Irmgard and Renate over what happened as his mother, sisters, his brother-in-law Kurt (Kurt Raab) watch where everyone but his older sister Anna (Hanna Schygulla) watch with disgust as it is the moment where Hans would have his heart attack. Much of Fassbinder’s compositions emphasize on medium shots and close-ups to play into the drama and dark humor while using the camera to play into a man dealing with isolation and resentment. There are also flashbacks that often appear in the film as it play into Hans’ life such as his time with his lover whom he is head over heels for as he has to leave her for military service while it also showcases the incident that got him fired from the police force. The latter of which is among some of the humorous moments of the film.
Also serving as the film’s music composer with arrangements from Peer Raben, Fassbinder aims for a low-key approach to the music as it is largely based on German folk music with Rocco Granata’s song Buona Notte being a key piece of music that is used as it plays into Hans’ nostalgia for a better love life and his feelings for his old lover. The film’s third act play into not just a reunion with an old friend from the Foreign Legion in Harry (Klaus Lowitsch) who would work with Hans and Irmgard as he would bring good fortune for them but Hans suddenly is filled with uncertainty over his own time as a merchant and how much he struggled. Even as it leads to this journey of him trying to find some meaning in his life as a dinner where he’s with his family as it is a discomforting moment because he’s the center of attention and he’s not comfortable with it at all where Renate thought about what her aunt Anna said in a scene during the film’s second act. Overall, Fassbinder crafts a rapturous yet chilling film about a man dealing with his own existence, life choices, and other things that has kept him down into despair.
Cinematographer Dietrich Lohmann does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography as it is largely straightforward for many of the daytime exterior scenes as well as using available and additional lighting for some of the interior scenes at night. Editor Thea Eymesz does excellent work with the editing as it is straightforward while having rhythmic cuts to play into some of the flashbacks as well as some intense moments in the drama. Art director/costume designer Kurt Raab, along with co-costume designer Uta Wilhelm, does fantastic work with the look of the apartment that Hans live with his family as well as the family apartment where Hans’ mother lives in along with the clothes where many of Hans’ family including his mother wear posh-like clothing as opposed to Hans who wears more working-class clothing.
The film’s wonderful ensemble cast feature notable small roles from Rainer Werner Fassbinder as an old friend of Hans whom he eats with at a restaurant where Harry works at, Elga Sorbas as the woman who would get Hans fired from the police force, Michael Fengler as a playboy trying to woo Irmgard when she’s walking home, the trio of Daniel Schmid, Harry Baer, and Marian Seldowsky as a trio of applicants being interviewed by Hans, Mark Bohm as the policeman who catches Hans in a compromising act that would get Hans fired, El Hedi ben Salem as an Arab soldier in a war flashback involving Hans and Harry, Peter Chatel as a doctor who tells Irmgard about the severity of Hans’ heart attack, and Walter Sedlmayr as a fruit cart seller who sells his cart to Irmgard. Karl Scheydt is terrific as a man named Anzell whom Hans hires to sell fruit for them as he was also someone Irmgard was with during Hans’ hospitalization.
Klaus Lowitsch is superb as Harry as an old war buddy of Hans who helps out him out while also being attentive towards Renate. Heide Simon and Kurt Raab are fantastic in their respective role as Hans’ younger sister Heide and her husband Kurt as they’re both critical of him with the latter being arrogant towards since he feels like a bigger success than Hans. Andrea Schober is excellent as Renate as Hans and Irmgard’s daughter who is a young girl just trying to understand what is going on as she also thinks about what her aunt said to her about her father’s issues as it would haunt her late in the film. Ingrid Caven is brilliant as Hans’ former lover as a woman who was the love of his life until he goes to the Foreign Legion only to marry someone else as she also pines for him despite that he’s married as well. Gusti Kreissl is amazing as Hans’ mother who always treats him with disdain and disappointment until he became successful yet is often cold towards him.
Hanna Schygulla is incredible as Hans’ older sister Anna who is the only person in his family who really cared about him despite being cynical around him yet is the one person who understands his issues while also telling Renate about his own plight. Irm Hermann is remarkable as Han’s wife Irmgard who deals with her husband’s cruelty and wild mood swings as she seeks to find happiness for herself only to deal with uncertainty in her desires and doing what is right for Hans. Finally, there’s Hans Hirschmuller in a sensational performance as Hans Epp as a man who tried to do everything right only to be met with disdain, neglect, and disappointment where Hirschmuller brings in the right kind of physicality to his performance but also someone who can be cruel towards those who care about him as it is an immensely riveting performance from Hirschmuller.
Handler der vier Jahreszeiten is a phenomenal film from Rainer Werner Fassbinder that features a great leading performance from Hans Hirschmuller. Along with its ensemble supporting cast, simplistic yet effective visuals, and its study of depression, disappointment, and self-destruction. It is a film that explore a man lamenting over what he doesn’t have and what he’s lost as well as the sense of mistreatment he has endured from those around him. In the end, Handler der vier Jahreszeiten 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 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) - Veronika Voss - Querelle
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