While the term “epic” is thrown around too often today to describe a movie that is longer than two hours, it’s hard to think of a better word to describe Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s fifteen-hour miniseries Berlin Alexanderplatz . The story of Franz Biberkopf’s (Günter Lamprecht) journey through life is one that is, on the surface, one of the most depressing journeys toward doom that film has ever seen, and, yet, there’s a strange beauty in the way it’s presented, in the way Fassbinder’s masterful direction makes the series an unforgettable experience.
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Alexanderplatz in Berlin. Even if you have never been there, you can easily imagine it. You’ve probably seen it on the news, in a documentary, music video or other film. But Berlin, which immigrant François calls home, is anything but majestic or even pleasant. This is the dark side of the German capital, where life is a constant struggle for survival.
Francis is the sole survivor of a boatload of West African immigrants who cross the raging seas in search of a better future. When he finally wakes up on an unknown beach, he promises himself to become a decent man. He finally starts a new life in Berlin and works on a building site for a long time. Unfortunately, his good intentions and especially his honesty lead him to his downfall. When another worker is seriously injured and no one is taking him to the hospital, Francis jumps in to help. As a result, he loses his job.
It is at this point that Berlin Alexanderplatz introduces us to a new and very important character, the drug dealer Reinhold. At first Francis refuses to get involved in his new friend’s criminal activities. Little by little, he realizes that he wants more than a bed, bread and butter. He decides to participate in a robbery of a jewelry store. Unfortunately, the situation gets out of hand and Franz (or Franz, as Reinhold now calls him) becomes disabled.
As a result, the owner of the nightclub is courting Eva Francis. Although there is an obvious bond between them, Eva is not very happy with her relationship with Reinhold. Finally, the call girl and prostitute Miese makes her appearance and very slowly becomes his love interest. Looks like things are finally coming together. Francis has found his share of happiness – a loving wife, who after a while also becomes pregnant with his child.
But Francis is a cursed man. And he knows it. He even tries to warn Miese when a serious relationship develops between the two. Francis literally tells him that he is doomed and that anyone who gets too close to him will die. We are constantly reminded of this. During his journey from Africa to Europe, his girlfriend did not survive. However, Miese has a positive outlook on life and ignores his warnings.
Besides, Francis is a caught man. He may be living off drugs, but he’s trying to be a decent human being. Although he knows that Reinhold is a criminal, he remains loyal to him. As a result, he is drawn deeper and deeper into his criminal life. Even though Francis is falling further and further behind, he is not distancing himself from his friend. It’s like he’s not capable.
It also doesn’t help that Reinhold is an amazing manipulator. He knows Francis very well and exploits his weaknesses. He manipulates his friend’s desire to become a German, get the necessary papers and register with dignity. Besides Francis’ manipulation, there is something else that will eventually lead to his downfall: Jealousy. Franz, with all his problems, has something Reinhold doesn’t. There is happiness in a loving relationship. And once Reinhold comes into play, everything falls apart.
One thing is certain: Director Burhan Qurbani has guts. Berlin Alexanderplatz is based on the famous novel by Alfred Döblin. In 1980, Rainer Werner Fassbender adapted the novel into a 14-part television series. Kurbani has only three hours and with that he gives the story a modern twist. Not bad, if you ask me. Don’t worry about the length of the film. Berlin Alexanderplatz has five parts and an epilogue, so time seems to pass more quickly.
The only thing I missed was some nuance. The film deals with many stereotypes. Every African immigrant seems to share the same fate as Francis. And all the women he knows seem to be sex workers. And the only white people Francis deals with are criminals. It’s a shame, really. If not, the adaptation could have been a masterpiece.
There is no denying that Kurbani has a great cast. Albrecht Schuch does an excellent job as the eccentric, funny but mean Reinhold. It’s a tour de force you won’t forget. (Theatre) Actor and director Welketh Bungoue gives a more than perfect portrayal of the main character, Francis. And I especially liked Jella Haase as the cheerful, good-hearted Miese.
The excellent acting makes it easy to empathize with the characters in the film. There are times when you want to yell at the screen and stop them from making the wrong decisions. One thing is certain: Berlin’s Alexanderplatz is the epitome of German cinema.
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