[Film Review] Veronika Voss (1982)

Veronika Voss poster

English Title: Veronika Voss
Original Title: Die Sehnsucht der Veronika Voss
Year: 1982
Country: West Germany
Language: German, English
Genre: Drama
Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Writers:
Pea Fröhlich
Peter Märthesheimer
Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Music: Peer Raben
Cinematography: Xaver Schwarzenberger
Cast:
Rosel Zech
Hilmar Thate
Cornelia Froboess
Annemarie Düringer
Doris Schade
Erik Schumann
Armin Mueller-Stahl
Peter Berling
Elisabeth Volkmann
Johanna Hofer
Rudolf Platte
Hans Wyprächtiger
Günther Kaufmann
Volker Spengler
Lilo Pempeit
Sonja Neudorfer
Juliane Lorenz
Rating: 7.2/10

Veronika Voss 1982

Fassbinder’s penultimate film, a Golden Berlin Bear winner in 1982, VERONIKA VOSS is a strikingly-looking black-and-white arthouse vehicle loosely blueprinted on the tragic real life story of German film star Sybille Schmitz (VAMPYR 1932, MASTER OF THE WORLD 1934, TITANIC 1943).

The time-line is set in 1955, post-WWII Munich, Veronika Voss (Zech) is an over-the-hill middle-aged actress, her career has remained stagnant for years, divorced by her screenwriter husband Max (Mueller-Stahl), now she lives in a psychiatric clinic governed by Dr. Marianne Katz (Düringer) and her assistant Josefa (Schade), where in Schmitz’s story, they are a lesbian couple. They proffer her morphine for her addiction in exchange of her estate and fortune, it is a shady racket in broad daylight which ensnares many pain-afflicting addicts, once their clients are no longer affordable, they will discard them like insignificant pawns.

Veronika is very close to this peril, will her be saved? The supposed knight in shining amour is Robert Krohn (Thate), a short, ordinary-looking sports journalist in his mid-40s, who has a stable girlfriend Henriette (Froboess) and doesn’t even recognise her when they first meet during a downpour in the night, maybe this is a major reason why Veronika finds him special, deems him as someone who can simply treat her as an attractive woman, without all the celebrity haloes. Their rendezvous evade any surreptitious pretence, Robert is fairly open about that and once Veronika even asks for his escort to her estate in spite of Henriette’s presence. Veronika is a damaged good already, pompous, insecure and self-seeking, sees Robert as her last straw to revitalize her life and plans a dramatic return to the limelight, yet, all will fall flat since her Achilles heel is firmly clutched by the evil doctors, she cannot be saved, it is physically impossible, a fatalistic manifesto to those incorrigibly poisoned, corrupted and weak-minded. Zech manifests a telling facet of Veronika’s jittery unstableness, holds great poise while inside she is beyond salvation.

Thate’s Robert, a common victim of an Ordinary Joe’s heroic fantasy, to fall for a damsel-in-distress, and rescues her from whatever evil force torments her. Only in Fassbinder’s book, the reality is too gloom to conjure up a gratifying victory, Robert has to endure a bigger loss other than Veronika, Thate’s performance brings about quite a subtle poignancy as the story goes into a more sinister twist. Annemarie Düringer, strikes up a whiff of frigid viciousness underneath Dr. Katz’s usual professional persona, so is Froboess, her Henriette is the only innocent person in it, piqued by the blatant affair, but she doesn’t counteract with resent or jealousy, on the contrary, she risks herself in Robert’s plan to expose Dr. Katz’s seedy business, unaware of the lurking danger. Innocence simply cannot reside in this corrupt world.

Fassbinder’s sleight-of-hand with lights and shadows infuses a nostalgic glamour to its texture; many a time, the camera moves like a serpentine, observing behind glasses like a voyeur, especially in the brightly white psychiatric clinic, extremely inhuman as if all the human trace has been sterilised altogether.

As the second part of Fassbinder’s BRD Trilogy (“BRD” stands for Bundesrepublik Deutschland, the official name of West Germany and of the united contemporary Germany), THE MARRIAGE OF MARIA BRAUN (1979) is the first one, and LOLA (1981) released one-year earlier than VERONIKA VOSS, is captioned as the third chapter, the film is a pessimistic probe into WWII residual affected on this one particular specimen, Veronika chooses to forget about the past and move on (it is implied she was in an affair with Goebbels), numbs herself with indulgence on drugs, one may argue that she is bringing all the trouble on herself, that’s why, the ending is so cold and despondent, we cannot pretend nothing has happened, there must be consequences for those who are participated, whether actively or passively.

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