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)

Fear Eats the Soul is a poignant and powerful film that captures the struggles of an unconventional love story amidst a backdrop of societal prejudices.

The film is masterfully directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who expertly weaves together themes of racism, ageism, and classism in a way that is both thought-provoking and emotionally resonant.

The performances of Brigitte Mira and Eledi ben Salem are nothing short of exceptional, as they portray the unlikely couple who must navigate the challenges of their relationship in a world that is quick to judge and condemn.

Their chemistry is palpable and their struggles are heart-wrenching, making for a truly unforgettable viewing experience.

The cinematography is also a standout element of the film, with Fassbinder utilizing color and framing to create a sense of intimacy and vulnerability that perfectly complements the film’s themes.

The use of close-ups and tight shots serve to emphasize the emotions of the characters, while the muted color palette adds a sense of melancholy and yearning.

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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” is a dark and introspective exploration of love, money, and power. The film follows Franz “Fox” Biberkopf, a working-class gay man who wins the lottery and becomes involved with a group of wealthy elites who take advantage of him for their own amusement.

   

Director Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s signature style of long takes and emotional intensity is on full display, as he delves deep into the complexities of human relationships and the corrupting influence of wealth.

Lead actor Fassbinder himself gives a powerful performance as Fox, capturing the character’s vulnerability and desperation with a raw honesty.

“Fox and His Friends” is a haunting and thought-provoking masterpiece that will stay with you long after viewing.

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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” is a visually stunning masterpiece, directed by the legendary Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

Set in the 1970s, the film follows the tumultuous relationship between Petra, a successful fashion designer, and Karin, a young and beautiful model.

The entire film takes place in Petra’s impeccably designed apartment, adding to the intense intimacy and claustrophobia of the story.

The performances are stellar, particularly Margit Carstensen’s portrayal of Petra, who goes through a wide range of emotions throughout the film.

Fassbinder’s direction is flawless, using close-ups and long takes to capture the characters’ every nuance.

The film is a commentary on power dynamics in relationships, and the cruelty that can accompany them.

It is a difficult watch at times, but the cinematography and performances make it an unforgettable experience.

“The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant” is a must-see for fans of arthouse cinema and anyone interested in exploring the complexities of human relationships.

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The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant [Blu-ray]
  • Margit Carstensen, Hanna Schygulla, Irm Hermann (Actors)
  • Rainer Werner Fassbinder (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

4. The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979)

The Marriage of Maria Braun is a masterpiece of German cinema, directed by the legendary Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

Set in post-World War II Germany, the film follows the life of Maria Braun, a woman who is determined to succeed in a world that has been destroyed by war.

The film is a poignant and powerful exploration of the human condition, and the struggles that people face when trying to rebuild their lives after a devastating event.

   

Maria Braun is a complex and fascinating character, played to perfection by the talented Hanna Schygulla. She is a woman who is both strong and vulnerable, and her journey is both heartbreaking and inspiring.

The cinematography is stunning, with Fassbinder using a muted color palette to capture the bleakness of post-war Germany.

The film is also notable for its use of music, with composer Peer Raben creating a haunting and beautiful score that perfectly complements the visuals.

The Marriage of Maria Braun [Blu-ray Region B Import -UK]
  • 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 masterpiece of German cinema that chronicles the life of a former convict, Franz Biberkopf, as he tries to redeem himself in the gritty streets of Berlin.

This epic film, directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, is a haunting exploration of human nature that will leave you spellbound.

From the very first scene, you are immersed in the world of Biberkopf and the seedy characters that populate his world.

The cinematography is stunning, with Fassbinder’s use of color and light creating a visceral experience that is both beautiful and disturbing.

The performances are also top-notch, with Günter Lamprecht delivering a tour-de-force performance as Biberkopf.

His portrayal of a man struggling to make sense of his life and find redemption is both heartbreaking and inspiring.

What sets this film apart, however, is its unflinching look at the darker aspects of human nature. Fassbinder doesn’t shy away from the violence, cruelty, and desperation that pervade Biberkopf’s world.

   

Instead, he confronts us with it head-on, forcing us to confront our own complicity in the cycle of poverty, crime, and despair.

In short, Berlin Alexanderplatz is a cinematic masterpiece that is not to be missed.

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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)

Querelle is a visually stunning and provocative film that explores themes of sexuality, desire, and power.

The film, directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, is based on the novel Querelle de Brest by Jean Genet, and tells the story of a young sailor named Querelle (played by Brad Davis) who becomes embroiled in a world of drug deals, murder, and sexual intrigue.

The film is visually striking, with bold colors and intricate set designs that create a vivid and surreal world for the characters to inhabit.

The performances are also exceptional, particularly Brad Davis in the lead role, who brings a haunting intensity and vulnerability to his character.

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 is a mesmerizing and thought-provoking film that will leave you questioning the nature of reality itself.

Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, this German sci-fi masterpiece is a must-watch for fans of the genre.

The film follows the story of Fred Stiller, a scientist who discovers that the reality he is living in is actually a computer-generated simulation. As he delves deeper into this revelation, he begins to uncover a sinister plot that threatens to upend the very fabric of his existence.

The cinematography in World on a Wire is stunning, with Fassbinder using a mix of long takes and close-ups to create a sense of unease and disorientation.

The set design is also top-notch, with the futuristic world feeling both familiar and alien at the same time.

The performances are also noteworthy, with Klaus Löwitsch delivering a standout turn as Stiller.

He perfectly captures the character’s growing sense of paranoia and desperation as he tries to make sense of the world around him.

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? is a bleak and unsettling exploration of the mundanity of everyday life and the psychological toll it can take on an individual.

Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Michael Fengler, the film follows the life of an ordinary man named Herr R. who seems to be living a content and unremarkable existence, until one day he snaps and commits a shocking act of violence.

The film’s slow-burn approach allows the audience to fully immerse themselves in Herr R.’s mundane existence, making his sudden outburst all the more shocking and disturbing. The use

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)

Veronika Voss is a haunting and mesmerizing film that tells the story of a faded film star who becomes entangled with a manipulative doctor in post-war Germany.

Director Rainer Werner Fassbinder expertly weaves together themes of addiction, power dynamics, and the cost of fame to create a film that is both beautiful and unsettling.

The cinematography is stunning, with each shot carefully crafted to convey the mood of the scene.

The use of black and white adds to the film’s eerie atmosphere and highlights the stark contrast between Veronika’s glamorous past and her present reality.

The performances are also top-notch, with Rosel Zech delivering a haunting portrayal of a woman trapped in her own illusions.

As the film progresses, it becomes clear that Veronika Voss is not just a critique of the film industry but a commentary on the larger societal issues that plagued Germany in the aftermath of World War II.

Fassbinder’s masterful storytelling leaves a lasting impact and makes Veronika Voss a must-see for anyone interested in German cinema or post-war history.

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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 powerful and thought-provoking film that delves deep into the complexities of human relationships and societal norms.

Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, the film portrays the lives of a group of working-class individuals in Munich, Germany, as they struggle to navigate their daily lives.

At the center of the film is Jorgos, a Greek immigrant who disrupts the lives of those around him with his foreign ways and unconventional behavior.

As tensions rise and conflicts emerge, the characters are forced to confront their own prejudices and biases, revealing the underlying tensions and power dynamics that exist within their community.

What makes Katzelmacher so compelling is Fassbinder’s unflinching and uncompromising approach to storytelling.

The film is raw and gritty, with a stark realism that captures the harsh realities of life for those on the fringes of society.

The performances are outstanding, with each actor bringing a depth and complexity to their characters that makes them feel all too real.

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

11. Beware of a Holy Whore (1971)

Director Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s “Beware of a Holy Whore” is a raw and unflinching portrayal of the film industry’s seedy underbelly.

This film follows a group of filmmakers as they struggle to complete a movie while dealing with their own personal dramas and struggles with addiction.

Fassbinder’s unconventional approach to storytelling makes for a disorienting and at times uncomfortable viewing experience, but it ultimately adds to the film’s authenticity.

The performances are excellent, particularly from Lou Castel as the troubled lead actor and Eddie Constantine as the gruff and demanding director.

The film’s themes of power dynamics, artistic integrity, and self-destructive behavior are still relevant today.

“Beware of a Holy Whore” may not be for everyone, but for those willing to dive into its chaotic world, it’s a fascinating and unforgettable ride.

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)

Love Is Colder Than Death is a stylish and enigmatic crime drama that showcases the unique vision and directorial style of Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

The film is a slow-burning meditation on love, loneliness, and the criminal underworld, and is an early example of Fassbinder’s signature style.

The film follows Franz, a small-time criminal who becomes involved with a prostitute named Joanna and a fellow criminal named Bruno.

As the three of them navigate the treacherous world of organized crime, they grapple with their own feelings of isolation and their desperate search for connection.

Fassbinder’s direction is meticulous, with long takes and static shots creating a sense of detachment that mirrors the emotional state of the characters.

The film also features Fassbinder’s trademark use of color and lighting, with bold hues and stark contrasts contributing to the film’s dreamlike quality.

The performances by the cast are understated yet effective, with Fassbinder himself delivering a compelling portrayal of Franz.

The dialogue is sparse but impactful, with each word carrying weight and significance.

Love Is Colder Than Death is a film that rewards patient viewers who are willing to immerse themselves in Fassbinder’s world.

It is a seminal work in the director’s oeuvre and a must-watch for fans of experimental cinema and crime dramas.

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 Kusters Goes to Heaven is a powerful and poignant drama that explores the complexities of family, grief, and societal oppression.

Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, this film is a masterpiece of German cinema that has stood the test of time.

The film tells the story of Mother Kusters, a widowed woman who lives a mundane life with her son and daughter-in-law.

However, her life takes a sudden turn when her husband’s suicide becomes a public spectacle and she becomes the subject of media attention.

As she tries to cope with her loss, she becomes a pawn in the hands of political activists who exploit her tragedy for their own gain.

The performances by the cast are simply outstanding, with Brigitte Mira delivering a nuanced and sensitive portrayal of Mother Kusters.

Fassbinder’s direction is masterful, with the use of close-ups and long takes creating a sense of intimacy that draws the audience into the emotional turmoil of the characters.

Mother Kusters Goes to Heaven is a film that will stay with you long after the credits roll.

It is a powerful commentary on the media’s exploitation of tragedy and the struggle of working-class families to find meaning and purpose in their lives.

This is a must-watch for anyone interested in German cinema or social commentary in film.

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

14. The Merchant of Four Seasons (1972)

The Merchant of Four Seasons is a poignant portrayal of a man’s descent into alcoholism and loneliness.

Director Rainer Werner Fassbinder masterfully crafts a story that is both heart-wrenching and brutally honest.

The film follows the life of Hans Epp (played brilliantly by Hans Hirschmüller), a former soldier turned fruit seller who struggles to find meaning and purpose in his life.

He is dissatisfied with his marriage and his job but finds solace in drinking. His downward spiral is painful to watch as he becomes more and more isolated from the people around him.

Fassbinder’s direction is impeccable, capturing the nuances of Hans’ character in every frame.

The use of close-ups and handheld camera work creates an intimate atmosphere that draws the viewer into Hans’ world.

The supporting cast is also exceptional, particularly Irm Hermann as Hans’ wife who delivers a powerful performance.

The Merchant of Four Seasons is a powerful exploration of human frailty and the destructive power of addiction.

It’s a film that stays with you long after the credits roll, leaving you with a deep sense of empathy for its flawed characters.

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 gritty and intense film that explores the dark and violent underbelly of post-war Germany.

This film is a masterpiece of cinema, showcasing director Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s unique style and his ability to create complex characters and intricate narratives.

The story follows a young American soldier named Ricky who returns to Germany to visit his family.

However, things quickly take a dark turn when Ricky becomes involved in a series of violent crimes, including murder and robbery.

The film is a powerful examination of the effects of war on individuals and society, and it raises important questions about the nature of violence and the consequences of our actions.

The performances in The American Soldier are outstanding, particularly that of lead actor Karl Scheydt, who delivers a nuanced and powerful portrayal of Ricky.

The film’s cinematography is also impressive, with Fassbinder using a stark black and white palette to create a sense of bleakness and despair.

 

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)

Chinese Roulette is a haunting and thought-provoking film that will leave you pondering long after the credits have rolled.

Directed by the legendary Rainer Werner Fassbinder, this German drama explores themes of betrayal, infidelity, and family dysfunction.

The film follows the story of a wealthy couple who, in an attempt to escape their unhappy marriage, independently plan a weekend getaway to their country home.

However, their plans are disrupted when they both invite their respective lovers to join them. Tensions rise as the characters navigate through their complicated relationships, culminating in a shocking finale that will leave you speechless.

Fassbinder’s direction is masterful, and the film’s stunning visuals and haunting score add to the overall sense of unease.

The performances are equally impressive, particularly Margit Carstensen’s portrayal of the emotionally complex and manipulative wife.

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

17. Satan’s Brew (1976)

Satan’s Brew is a twisted and absurd film that will leave you both disturbed and amused.

Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, the movie centers around the life of a troubled poet, Walter Kranz, whose life spirals out of control as he tries to juggle his relationships with his wife, mistress, and a man who claims to be his brother.

The film is a dark and satirical take on the art world and the ego-driven personalities that inhabit it. The characters are all delusional and self-absorbed, which makes for some hilarious and cringe-worthy moments.

The film’s humor is often dark and uncomfortable, but it’s this discomfort that makes it all the more memorable.

The performances are exceptional, with Kurt Raab delivering a standout performance as Walter Kranz.

His portrayal of the tormented poet is both hilarious and heartbreaking.

Fassbinder’s direction is also noteworthy, with his signature style of long takes and extreme close-ups adding to the film’s claustrophobic and unsettling atmosphere.

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

18. Gods of the Plague (1970)

Gods of the Plague is a bleak and brooding crime drama that explores the seedy underbelly of post-war Germany.

Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, the film follows the story of Franz, a small-time crook who becomes embroiled in a web of violence and betrayal.

Fassbinder’s direction is masterful, as he creates a dark and oppressive atmosphere that perfectly captures the sense of hopelessness and despair that permeates the film.

The performances are equally impressive, with Harry Baer delivering a standout performance as Franz, a man who is torn between his loyalty to his friends and his desire for a better life.

The film’s themes of isolation, desperation, and betrayal are explored with a keen eye for detail, and Fassbinder’s use of music and visual imagery is nothing short of brilliant.

This is a film that demands your attention, and it rewards those who are willing to delve deep into its murky depths.

Gods of the Plague is a haunting and unforgettable cinematic experience that showcases Fassbinder’s prodigious talent as a filmmaker.

It is a film that will stay with you long after you’ve watched it, and it is a must-see for anyone who appreciates the art of cinema.

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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