SATAN'S BREW may be the least interesting film made by the great Rainer Werner Fassbinder, a shrill and tiresome attempt at a screwball black comedy about a talentless poet and his grotesquely dysfunctional family.
Walter Krantz (Kurt Raab) is a washed-up "poet of the revolution" who hasn't written a new line in two years and is desperate for money. After being rejected by his publishers for an advance, he visits some married friends named Rolf and Lilly (Marquard Bohm and Ingrid Caven), but is again turned
down. He then sees his mistress, a submissive nymphomanic named Irmgard (Katherina Buchhammer) who has an orgasm while writing him a check. At the point of her climax, she begs him to shoot her, and he obliges. Krantz returns home to his badgering, overweight wife Luise (Helen Vita) and his
retarded brother Ernst (Volker Spengler), who collects flies and tries to have sex with them.
Krantz decides to revive his career by publishing an interview with a prostitute, and has sex with her while his wife watches. He finally is inspired to write a new line of poetry, but Luise proves that the line was stolen from a book by Stefan George, a 19th century homosexual poet favored by the
Nazis. Krantz comes to the logical conclusion that he must be a reincarnation of George and begins to dress like him, act like him, and hold readings for a group of young, gay acolytes. He even tries to have sex with a man in a public restroom, but runs away in the middle of it.
Luise tells Krantz that she's getting ill, but he ignores her and brings home an admirer named Andree (Margit Carstensen) to live with them, who ends up being raped and turned into a virtual slave by Ernst. Luise eventually dies and Krantz pretends to get hysterical, but is actually happy. Then he
tells the police that his brother is the one who shot and killed his mistress Irmgard. Ernst picks up the gun and shoots Krantz, but the gun is filled with blanks and Irmgard comes walking in saying it was all just a big hoax. Andree runs away with Rolf, Lilly moves in to assume the role of Luise,
and the whole family does a happy little dance.
Opening and closing with quotes from Antonin Artaud regarding how humans should think and act like gods, SATAN'S BREW is Fassbinder's homage to Artaud's Theatre of Cruelty, as well as the Theatre of the Absurd. It was also intended as a social and political attack on the mid-70s German arts scene,
but even shorn of the contemporary satire, the film is astonishing simply for its audaciousness and demented sensibility. Fassbinder's attempt to attach a violent slapstick style--with characters running around screaming and crashing into doors--to a vicious depiction of degenerate characters,
results in a kind of insane, X-rated sitcom without a trace of compassion or pity. It is absolutely relentless in its disgust and hatred not just for every character, but for mankind as well, frequently referring to humans as "mites." However, the acting is pitched at such an artificial and
stridently theatrical level, that it's hard to enjoy the proceedings even as a comedy, and the film as a whole is an ordeal to sit through. It's performed and directed with Fassbinder's customary precision, and one can admire it for its sheer, undiluted outrageousness, but in the end it comes off
as a failed stylistic experiment.(Extensive nudity, sexual situations, extreme profanity, violence.)
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