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Fox And His Friends
cast: Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Peter Chatel, Karl-Heinz Böhm, and Adrian Hoven

director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

129 minutes (18) 1975
Arrow DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Jim Steel
This is a bleak one. There are, arguably, no likable characters in Fox And His Friends (aka: Faustrecht Der Freiheit - 'survival of the fittest'?), although one can't help but feel sympathy for the ironically named Fox (played brilliantly and naturally by Fassbinder himself) as his life is dismantled around him. And, as one of the earliest portrayals of a gay lifestyle in cinema, its harsh outlook must have left gay viewers feeling ambivalent at best.

Franz Biberkopf is, as 'Fox the Talking Head', an attraction at a fairground show alongside some 'exotic' dancers. We never get to see the act as his boss and lover, Klaus, is arrested at the start. He promises Fox that, at worst, he'll be out in a few years, but this means that Fox is now out of a job. It is only when we're an hour into the film that we learn that Klaus was arrested for tax fraud, which clears up one minor mystery. Fox's immediate concern, however is to get 10 marks to play the lottery. He's convinced that this week, as every week, he is going to win. The strippers refuse to lend him money. His alcoholic, slatternly sister has no money. The rich, older man (Max - a stylish Karlheinz Böhm) he picks up in a public toilet refuses to give him money. Eventually he cons a flower retailer out of the money and gets Max to drive him to a kiosk just in the nick of time.

Jump to two weeks later, and Fox is at a gathering in Max's apartment. He's won 500,000 marks and is now rich. This has enabled him to upgrade his denim jacket to a leather one. One of Max's middleclass friends Eugene Theiss (Peter Chatel) is soon going out with Max. He persuades max to buy an apartment (over 100,000 marks) and fits it out with antiques from Max's shop (another 80,000 marks), before dressing Fox in the latest fashions from another friend's boutique. It's the mid-1970s, so the clothing looks terrible on most people. On an uncomfortable Fox it looks downright cruel.

Soon Eugene has introduced Fox to his parents (Adrian Hoven and Ulla Jacobsson), who along with everyone else, barely manage to conceal their distaste for Fox's proletarian manners. Theiss senior happens to be named Wolf, although the character is portrayed as another alcoholic, presumably to dull the effect of the name. The family's bookbinding firm is in trouble, and so Fox steps in with another 100,000 marks. This time it's a loan, although the family lawyer stitches him up. And so on. It's quite obvious that there is not going to be a happy ending, and the best that the viewer can hope for is that Fox ends up back where he started.

One of the delights of Fassbinder films is watching the different ways that he utilises his stable of actors. Bridgette Mira (Mother Küsters, from the film of the same name that was also released in 1975) has a bit part as the kiosk owner, for example - but this film loops in on itself. The same characters turn up again and again, and Fassbinder manages to play the coincidences with such finesse that they seem natural. The ending does come across as strangely melodramatic, which does rupture the viewer's suspension of disbelief, but it is a minor flaw.
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