Veronika Voss (1982)

“Everything I have belongs to you — all I have left to give you is my death.”

Veronika Voss Poster

Synopsis:
A morphine-addicted actress (Rosel Zech) in postwar Germany falls in love with a sports journalist (Hilmar Thate) who slowly learns about his new lover’s unhealthy relationship with her doctor (Annemarie Duringer).

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary seems less than enthusiastic in his review of this “rare uncomplicated Fassbinder picture”, the “last film in… Fassbinder’s postwar trilogy, following The Marriage of Maria Braun and Lola.” Loosely based on the career of UFA actress Sybille Schmitz, it tells an absorbing tale of addiction, dependence, and domination, with Thate’s everyman journalist finding himself unexpectedly lured into Zech’s troubled existence. Peary cites the film as “of interest mainly because of what Veronika Voss represents”: both “the once great, proud Germany that shrinks away in pain, guilt, and humiliation and the victims of the postwar social order.” In addition, he notes that “Fassbinder, who often identified with his heroines, probably related to Veronika Voss’s drug addiction since his own dependency was increasing at the time”, and conjectures that “perhaps Fassbinder sensed [that] his imminent demise… would be similar to Veronika Voss’s”.

I find the film much more enjoyable than the above analysis would indicate. While it’s certainly of interest on a number of historical and thematic levels, it also simply “works” as a compelling, finely acted character drama. Xaver Schwarzenberger’s rich black-and-white cinematography and Rolf Zehetbauer’s stark set designs (note the blindingly white quarters of Dr. Katz’s “office”) help to create an “other-worldly” post-WWII landscape, one which resonates effectively with Voss’s warped existence. Indeed, the film is a fascinating combination of standard melodrama (Fassbinder was heavily influenced by Douglas Sirk) and post-modern surrealism: in one of the movie’s strangest scenes, for instance, Zech openly propositions Thate in front of his girlfriend (Cornelia Froboess), who thus knows about his betrayal yet ends up assisting Thate in his attempt to uncover the truth behind Zech’s mysterious relationship with her doctor (Duringer). Film fanatics — whether fans of Fassbinder’s oeuvre or not — are sure to find this one worth a look.

Note: Parallels are often made between this and Billy Wilder’s masterful Sunset Boulevard, given that both Zech’s Veronika Voss and Gloria Swanson’s Norma Desmond are aging “has beens”, desperate for a resurgence of their failing careers, who lure an impressionable young man into their troubled lives. This is definitely the darker of the two.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Rosel Zech as Veronika Voss
    Veronika Voss Zech
  • Hilmar Thate as Robert Krohn
    Veronika Voss Thate
  • Cornelia Froboess as Henriette
    Veronika Voss Froboess
  • Annemarie Duringer as Dr. Katz
    Veronika Voss Duringer
  • Striking b&w cinematography
    Veronika Voss Cinematography
  • Effectively stark sets
    Veronika Voss Sets

Must See?
Yes, as one of Fassbinder’s most compelling films.

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One Response to “Veronika Voss (1982)”

  1. A once-must, for Zech’s performance and for the artistry of the film’s look and feel.

    All of Fassbinder’s films are, in one way or another, a cry for help. Who in his or her right mind would, in the ordinary sense, be a Fassbinder fan?

    That needs some explaining. I’ve seen just about all of Fassbinder’s work, I think. And I now process them differently than when I saw them in my 20s. At that time, they were simply too unique for me to (usually) think of them in other than praiseworthy terms. I don’t feel that way now. My ‘appreciation’ of them has altered. With age, I now look through his work and see something underneath the films which I was either hesitant to notice or just missed.

    With each film, Fassbinder did appear to be growing and maturing as a filmmaker. But to me, now…in a sense he kept making the same film over and over. Or, rather…regardless of the setting, Fassbinder’s worldview never changed.

    There’s no doubt of his intelligence. Certainly a well-read man, and he made some very smart choices when he actually selected from world literature for something to base a film on. He not only had a talent to distill, but also had a developed knack for choosing savvy collaborators in each area of his projects.

    The saddest thing about his work, however, is its fundamentally stunted growth.

    ‘VV’ is no exception. As a visual and emotional experience, it is often arresting. But, like most of Fassbinder’s films, it is essentially empty. Fassbinder was always a master at disguising the barrenness that rests at the core of his work. (For me, the real exception in all of this is his masterpiece, ‘Berlin Alexanderplatz’…warts and all.)

    An argument can be made that ‘VV’ is the story of a triangle – with Voss and Robert both representing Fassbinder (both characters have a death wish) and Dr. Katz the embodiment of medication. (Katz’s office is designed and lit in blinding white, as the ultimate salvation and redemption. The fact that the place is a den of oblivion is, in true Fassbinder fashion, masked.) Fassbinder’s personal demons, at this point, were apparently ‘winning’. At any rate, this is how it appears. His work reflects a date with destiny written in ink. (‘Querelle’ would seal this; an incomprehensible work, based on gay pulp lit that was beneath him…and which seemed to reveal that he simply didn’t care anymore.)

    All that said: Zech’s performance as a despicable weakling is brave, to say the least. (She has been compared to Delphine Seyrig and, here, the comparison is appropriate.) As Robert, Thate is very much like other rough-looking Fassbinder characters…in other words, the kind of men he felt drawn to personally. (He referred to Thate as ‘erotic’, and I won’t argue with that.) His understated performance is rather effective. The unsung performer here is Froboess; she manages something very sly with what could easily have been a thankless role. (~and she meets an end something to that of one of the film-within-a-film characters in ‘Kiss of the Spider Woman’).

    My favorite sequences are two early ones: when we first see Veronika on a studio set and the scene is shot through a kind of prism of crystallized, angelic phantasm…and when Veronica meets Robert in the rain. How I wish for something wonderful to happen for them. ~which is not to be.

    Note: the BRD Trilogy collection contains a documentary on the life of Sybille Schmitz. The similarities existing between her life and what is depicted in ‘Veronika Voss’ are much more than simply noticeable.

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