Rainer Werner Fassbinder was a German director and screenwriter whose prolific output, often considered to be a “trash cinema”, was largely ignored by the film establishment of his time. 

He is one of the most influential directors of the New German Cinema era.

Introduction to Rainer Werner Fassbinder Films

Fassbinder’s films are usually classified as melodramas; however, many critics claim that his films’ stylistic and narrative features place them in a genre beyond conventional melodrama. 

The themes of his work address the social and political realities of post-World War II Germany. 

Fassbinder’s films are also notable for their use of music and sound effects, which often indicate what will happen next in the plot.

Fassbinder’s early films were noted for their social realism, critical view of West German society (often centered around working class culture), and occasional references to New German Cinema forefathers such as Rainer Werner Fassbinder himself – who was born in Bavaria – or Wim Wenders – who grew up in Cologne – but later developed into more experimental works including “Lola” (1981) with its postmodern style mixing various genres including comedy, melodrama

Best Rainer Werner Fassbinder Films

Let’s start off our list of the best Rainer Werner Fassbinder movies with a classic.

1. Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974)

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul is a 1974 West German romantic drama film written and directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder and starring Brigitte Mira and El Hedi ben Salem.

 It is based on a story by Franz Xaver Kroetz, in which an elderly woman and an Arab immigrant fall in love while working at a cleaning company.

 The film won several awards, including the Grand Prix Spécial du Jury at the Cannes Film Festival, the Blue Angel Award for Best European Film, and Best Actress for Mira at the German Film Awards.

The film explores the theme of racism and xenophobia that exists in Germany and other parts of Europe.

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Ali: Fear Eats the Soul [Blu-ray]
  • Factory sealed DVD
  • Brigitte Mira, El Hedi ben Salem, Rainer Werner Fassbinder (Actors)
  • Rainer Werner Fassbinder (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • English (Publication Language)

2. Fox and His Friends (1975)

Fox and His Friends (1975) is a film by Rainer Werner Fassbinder. It was his first major success as a director, earning him international recognition.

 The film is set in the early 1960s and follows Fox (Hans Hirschmüller) as he tries to make a living with his friends.

The title of the film comes from the fairy tale “The Fox and the Grapes” by Aesop, which was a favorite story of Fassbinder’s mother.

The film received several awards, including the Silver Bear — Special Jury Prize at the 25th Berlin International Film Festival.

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Fox and His Friends (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
  • Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Harry Baer, Peter Chatel (Actors)
  • Rainer Werner Fassbinder (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

3. The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972)

The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972) is a film by Rainer Werner Fassbinder. It was his first feature-length film as director.

The film was shot in black and white and runs for three hours and twenty minutes (including intermission). 

The title comes from the song “The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant” from Brecht’s Threepenny Opera.

The plot is set in Berlin, in an apartment building where the main character, Petra (Hanna Schygulla), lives with her mother, Anna (Margarethe von Trotta). 

The two women have an emotionally detached relationship: they share their meals together but never speak to each other and barely acknowledge each other’s presence. 

Petra is a fashion designer who has become successful enough to buy herself a luxurious apartment; however, she has no friends or family and spends most of her time either working or sleeping. 

She interacts almost exclusively with her assistant Barbara (Susanne Lothar), who speaks only French — even though Barbara knows enough German to understand Petra when they’re together — and seems to be under Petra’s spell.

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The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant [Blu-ray]
  • Bitter Tears Of Petra Von Kant (Criterion Collection)
  • Margit Carstensen, Hanna Schygulla, Irm Hermann (Actors)
  • Rainer Werner Fassbinder (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • English (Publication Language)

4. The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979)

The Marriage of Maria Braun is a 1979 West German historical drama film written and directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder. It is loosely based on the 1946 novel The Marriage of Maria Braun by Hans Fallada.

The film stars Hanna Schygulla as Maria, a woman who marries an American soldier after World War II, only to find herself abandoned and widowed soon afterwards.

Desperate to support herself and her young son, she resumes her affair with her boss (Heinz Bennent), who has become wealthy due to the war economy.

The film received international acclaim for its vivid portrayal of the impact of war on ordinary people.

The Marriage of Maria Braun ( Die Ehe der Maria Braun ) [ NON-USA FORMAT, Blu-Ray, Reg.B Import - United Kingdom ]
  • The Marriage of Maria Braun ( Die Ehe der Maria Braun )
  • The Marriage of Maria Braun
  • Die Ehe der Maria Braun
  • Hanna Schygulla, Ivan Desny, Gottfried John (Actors)
  • Rainer Werner Fassbinder (Director) - The Marriage of Maria Braun ( Die Ehe der Maria Braun )...

5. Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980)

Berlin Alexanderplatz is a 13-part German television miniseries adaptation of Alfred Döblin’s novel of the same title, written and directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder. 

The series was shot in 16mm black and white, with a running time of over 600 minutes (11.5 hours). 

The film premiered in 1980 on German public broadcaster SDR, and was released theatrically in several countries, including France where it played at the Cannes Film Festival.

Fassbinder’sepic was first made for German television, but it was also released theatrically in Europe and the U.S., where it won the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film. 

The film is set in Berlin during the Weimar Republic and depicts a day in the life of Franz Biberkopf (played by Helmut Berger), a former criminal who has just been released from prison after serving a seven-year sentence. 

Biberkopf tries to begin a new life but finds himself sucked into old habits once again as he falls for Nelly (Elisabeth Trissenaar), a young prostitute who works at an illegal brothel run by her pimp, Lohse (Hanna Schygulla). 

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Berlin Alexanderplatz (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
  • Günter Lamprecht, Hanna Schygulla, Barbara Sukowa (Actors)
  • Rainer Werner Fassbinder (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

6. Querelle (1982)

Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Querelle is a film that will stay with you long after the final credits roll. 

This adaptation of Jean Genet’s novel is a tale of lust and murder set in the port city of Brest during World War II. 

It boasts an all-star cast including Brad Davis (The Changeling), Klaus Löwitsch (The Marriage of Maria Braun), Hanna Schygulla (Ali: Fear Eats the Soul), and Irm Hermann (Lola).

In 1940s France, Robert Querelle (Brad Davis) arrives in Brest to take up his job as a sailor on a freighter called Le Lys. 

He has left behind his life as a hustler in Paris and has decided to become “more than just a faggot.” 

As he begins his new life at sea, however, he finds himself drawn towards one particular sailor named Alain (Klaus Löwitsch). 

When Alain is found dead with stab wounds on his body, Querelle becomes the prime suspect in the investigation.

Querelle [Blu-ray]
  • Querelle ( 1982 ) ( Querelle: A Film About Jean Genet's 'Querelle de Brest )
  • Querelle ( 1982 )
  • Querelle: A Film About Jean Genet's 'Querelle de Brest
  • Franco Nero, Jeanne Moreau, Brad Davis (Actors)
  • Rainer Werner Fassbinder (Director) - Querelle ( 1982 ) ( Querelle: A Film About Jean Genet's...

7. World on a Wire (1973)

World on a Wire (1973) is a science fiction movie directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder. 

The movie is based on the novel The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse and features actors Heinz Bennent, Hanna Schygulla and Josef Bierbichler.

The film is set in the future where an elite group of scientists use an advanced computer to simulate reality. 

   

The computer is so powerful that it can create virtual realities that are indistinguishable from reality itself. 

One day, one of these virtual realities starts to malfunction and people start to lose their sense of identity.

Sale
World on a Wire (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
  • Factory sealed DVD
  • Klaus Löwitsch, Barbara Valentin, Mascha Rabben (Actors)
  • Rainer Werner Fassbinder (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • English (Publication Language)

8. Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? (1970)

Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? (1970) is a film by Rainer Werner Fassbinder. It is based on the play by Peter Handke.

Fassbinder’s third feature film and his first in color, it was shot on location in Munich and is considered one of his most accessible films. 

The humor and tart criticism of bourgeois society are still present, but they’re tempered with a lightness that is rare in Fassbinders other work.

The action takes place over the course of one day in an unnamed German city. The protagonist, Herr R., a middle-aged man who works as an insurance agent, has just returned home from a business trip to find that his wife has left him for another man. 

He then goes on a rampage through the city streets, indulging himself in various forms of pleasure before returning home at nightfall to find his wife asleep in their bed with her new lover beside her.

The film was adapted from Peter Handkes 1965 play Der Fremde (The Stranger), which also starred Karlheinz Bohm as Herr R..

Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? [DVD]
  • Lilith Ungerer, Kurt Raab, Lilo Pempeit (Actors)
  • Michael Fengler (Director) - Michael Fengler (Writer)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: Unrated (Not Rated)

9. Veronika Voss (1982)

 A woman is released from a mental institution after spending ten years there. She attempts to reconnect with her old boyfriend who is now married and has two children. 

She finds herself falling in love with a younger man named Peter. When Peter finds out about the affair, he leaves Veronika and goes back to his wife and children. 

Veronika is then left alone again until she meets a new man named Hans who takes her in as his lover and lives with him for several months until they have an argument which results in Hans leaving her once again and going back to his wife and children.

Veronika then decides that she wants to leave Germany because she feels like she cannot find happiness there anymore so she moves to America where she hopes to start over again by living alone without anyone else interfering in her life.

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The BRD Trilogy (Marriage of Maria Braun / Lola / Veronika Voss) (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
  • Hanna Schygulla, Barbara Sukowa, Rosel Zech (Actors)
  • Rainer Werner Fassbinder (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

10. Katzelmacher (1969)

Katzelmacher is a 1969 film by Rainer Werner Fassbinder. It was the director’s first feature-length film, made for television and intended to be a pilot for a projected series of five 15-minute episodes. 

After the series was rejected by German broadcasters, the film was released theatrically in several countries including France and Italy. The cast includes Hanna Schygulla, Irm Hermann and Hans Hirschmüller.

The film’s title refers to the name of an industrial suburb of Essen where it was shot.

The plot follows the lives of three working class characters living in an industrial community in Germany: Franz Bracht (Hans Hirschmüller), his wife Helga (Irm Hermann) and their daughter Lotte (Hanna Schygulla). 

The drama focuses primarily on Franz’s frustration with his life and family while also examining his affair with another woman named Ilse (Hildegard Knef).

Katzelmacher [DVD]
  • Baer, Harry, Brem, Rudolf Waldemar, Gromball, Hannes (Actors)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: Unrated (Not Rated)

11. Beware of a Holy Whore (1971)

Beware of a Holy Whore is a 1971 West German film directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder and starring Margit Carstensen and Gunther Kaufmann. 

It tells the story of a prostitute (Carstensen) who falls in love with a married man (Kaufmann). 

The film was shot in two weeks during the summer of 1970 on location in Hamburg and at Bavaria Film Studios.

The title Beware of a Holy Whore comes from an 18th-century play by Denis Diderot, which is alluded to throughout the film. 

In this context, “holy whore” means someone who is holy but also immoral.

Fassbinder’s original title for the project was “I’m Not Stiller”, referring to Swiss writer Max Frisch’s novel Man in the Holocene (1947), which was later used as the title for Fassbinder’s first feature film. 

Beware of a Holy Whore [DVD]
  • Marquard Bohm, Rudolf Waldemar Brem, Lou Castel (Actors)
  • Rainer Werner Fassbinder (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: Unrated (Not Rated)

12. Love Is Colder Than Death (1969)

This  Fassbinder film was released in Germany on 9 October 1969.

The film is set in Berlin, Germany and includes a cast of non-professional actors, including Fassbinder’s then-girlfriend Ingrid Caven (who plays the lead role). 

The film was made on a small budget and would go on to become one of the most celebrated films of Fassbinder’s early career.

Love Is Colder Than Death is based on a play by the same name that was written by Helmut Krausser. 

It was originally produced for television but it was not shown until many years later because it was considered too shocking for the time.

Love is Colder Than Death [DVD]
  • Berling, Peter, Brem, Rudolf Waldemar, Gaines, Howard (Actors)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: Unrated (Not Rated)

13. Mother Kusters Goes to Heaven (1975)

Mother Küsters Goes to heaven is a 1975 German film written and directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder. It stars Brigitte Mira, Ingrid Caven, Karlheinz Böhm and Margit Carstensen. 

The film was shot over 20 days between February and March 1975 in Frankfurt am Main.

Mother Kusters Goes to Heaven [DVD]
  • Bollag, Peter, Böhm, Karlheinz, Carstensen, Margit (Actors)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: Unrated (Not Rated)

14. The Merchant of Four Seasons (1972)

The Merchant of Four Seasons is a 1971 West German film written and directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, starring Hans Hirschmüller and Irm Hermann. 

The plot follows the life of a fruit-peddler, living in 1950s Munich, who is driven over the edge by an uncaring society.

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The Merchant of Four Seasons [Blu-ray]
  • Hans Hirschmüller, Irm Hermann, Hanna Schygulla (Actors)
  • Rainer Werner Fassbinder (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

15. The American Soldier (1970)

The American Soldier is a 1970 West German film written and directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder. 

The film stars Karl Scheydt as Ricky, a German-American Vietnam veteran, who takes a job as a hired assassin on behalf of three renegade policemen to do away with a number of undesirables in Munich.

The American Soldier [DVD]
  • Marius Aicher, Hark Bohm, Marquard Bohm (Actors)
  • Rainer Werner Fassbinder (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: Unrated (Not Rated)

16. Chinese Roulette (1976)

Shocking revelations occur when cheating spouses and their daughter (Andrea Schober) gather at their country estate.

It stars Margit Carstensen, Ulli Lommel, and Anna Karina.

The film, a bleak psychological drama, climaxes with a truth-guessing game, which gives the film its title. The plot follows a bourgeois married couple whose infidelities are exposed by their disabled child.

Chinese Roulette [DVD]
  • Anna Karina, Margit Carstensen, Brigitte Mira (Actors)
  • Rainer Werner Fassbinder (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: Unrated (Not Rated)

17. Satan’s Brew (1976)

Satan’s Brew is a 1976 German film directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

The poet Walter Kranz and his practical wife Luise live with Walter’s mentally disabled brother Ernst. 

They have money problems, as the formerly successful “poet of the revolution” has not written anything in two years. 

His bank account is overdrawn, his publisher refuses to give him an advance, and he has already accumulated too many debts with his friends Lisa and Rolf. 

One of Walter’s mistresses, Irmgard von Witzleben, writes him a check, but he accidentally shoots her while roleplaying with a gun.

Le Roti De Satan
  • French (Subtitle)
  • French (Publication Language)

18. Gods of the Plague (1970)

A man is released from prison and finds the society on the outside less than appealing. With several women as well as the police on his tail, he sets out to find an old friend.

After his release from prison, ex-convict Franz Walsch finds his way back into the Munich criminal underworld and also finds that his attentions become focused upon two women, Joanna and Margarethe, as well as upon Günther, his friend who earlier shot his brother.

Gods of the Plague [DVD]
  • Baer, Harry, Caven, Ingrid, Cochina, Micha (Actors)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: Unrated (Not Rated)

Characteristics of Rainer Werner Fassbinder Films

Rainer Werner Fassbinder was a German filmmaker, who has been called “one of the most important and influential film directors of the 1970s.” 

His prolific output, which includes dozens of feature films and television works, covers a wide range of genres and topics. 

He is best known for his work in post-World War II Germany, but he was also an influential figure in New German Cinema.

Fassbinder’s early films were influenced by the French New Wave and Japanese cinema. 

In his mature work, he developed a style that integrated often brutal depictions of sexuality with melodramatic plot elements. 

His most famous works include The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972), Fox and His Friends (1974), Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974) and Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980).

Fassbinder’s films often feature dark themes—depression, suicide, murder—and are usually shot in black-and-white film stock. They’re also known for their long takes, which give them a documentary feel at times.

Some other characteristics include:

  • Use of melodramatic plot elements; often involving love triangles or other romantic entanglements.
  • Strong female characters who are not afraid to speak their minds or take charge when they need to (and they often do).
  • A focus on relationships between men and women, often exploring power dynamics and how they affect our lives.
  • A cynical view of society and its institutions (especially government).

Best Rainer Werner Fassbinder Films – Wrapping Up

When it comes to Rainer Werner Fassbinder, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. 

The German filmmaker has a reputation for making films that are dark and depressing, but also undeniably compelling. 

He was a master at creating characters who were trapped by their circumstances and unable to break free. 

His films have been described as “melodramas,” but they are more like tragedies in which there are no real villains or heroes. Everyone is simply doing what they have to do to survive in the world.

Fassbinder started out as an actor before moving into directing plays and other productions. He started making short films in the 1960s, but it wasn’t until the early 1970s when he began making feature-length films.

 He made dozens of movies between 1970 and 1982 (his death), each one different from the others in both style and subject matter. 

Fassbinder worked with a small group of actors and friends throughout his career, including Hanna Schygulla, Gunther Kaufmann, Irm Hermann and Barbara Sukowa. 

His films are characterized by their intense focus on sexuality, power relations and class struggle. While he was alive he was often criticized for not taking advantage of his talent as a director and writer to make more commercial films.

However, since his death his work has been re-evaluated and is now considered among the most important contributions to world cinema from Germany in the 1970s and 1980s.

 

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