Grade: B Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? (1970)

Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Michael Fengler

Stars: Kurt Raab, Lilith Ungerer, Amadeus Fengler

Release Company: New Yorker Films

MPAA Rating: NR

Fassbinder: Why Does Herr R. Run Amok?


Among the early works of New German cinema auteur Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? (Warum läuft Herr R. Amok?) reminds me of my first feeble "fictional" writing for my collegiate Narrative Writing course—only due to theme and plot elements. I was fortunate to get a "C" on my piece of drivel that essentially lifted a banal car monologue my mom had blathered on the long commute to the university that I ended with an abrupt nihilistic suicidal dive in front of an oncoming car. My writing professor labeled my anti-organized religion diatribe "immature" and declared that the ending was far too "easy." Although somewhat parallel, Fassbinder's collaborative work with Michael Fengler plays much more provocatively than my long forgotten initial foray into fiction.

The story is extremely simple, and focuses primarily on a middle-aged couple. Easy going overweight Herr R. (Kurt Rabb) works as a draftsman in a small architectural company. The people at the firm are pleasant enough, but their daily routine of drawing straight lines with their T-squares is as mundane as their social conversations that consist of generic jokes. Herr's wife (Lilith Ungerer) similarly maintains their boring bourgeois lifestyle—they watch TV, dutifully raise their son Amadeus (Amadeus Fengler), and tolerate occasional visits from friends and family.

Herr R. appears to be virtually sleepwalking through the monotony. Demonstrating little initiative, we learn from his wife that he's hoping for a job promotion after he drinks too much at an office party. We also see him stoically listening to their son' teacher describe how "average" their son is academically and how he has reading problems because of a lisp. Soon after Herr drills his son to pronounce "sh" sounds properly—another display of shallowness, emphasizing that appearances and what others think are more important than any internal triggers.

The static camera captures the mood of the narrative perfectly. Herr R. moves from one humdrum setting to another—he only becomes animated when an old friend comes to visit him, and he begins reminiscing "old times" ad nauseum. Of course, this bores his wife to death (the audience as well). The same goes for Herr whenever his wife's parents or friends visit; in fact, it's during the final interminable conversation between his wife and a neighbor that previously restrained Herr R. "loses it."

It’s a shock. After lulling the audience into a quiet monotonous routine, the film jolts us provocatively. It's nowhere near the best of Fassbinder's work, but it's a provocative film that certainly isn't easy to forget—as long as you patiently sit through its entirety.

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