Latest Review – Berlin Alexanderplatz [Blu-ray] [Second Sight Films]


Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Cast: Günter Lamprecht, Hanna Schygulla, Barbara Sukowa, Elisabeth Trissenaar, Gottfried John

UK Distributor: Second Sight Films

Genre: Drama • Year: 1980 • Country: West Germany • Running Time: 15 hours (approx.) • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 • Image: Colour • Language: German • Rating: 15 • Region: Region B • Video: 1080i High Definition [Resolution] | MPEG-4 AVC [Codec] • Audio: German 1.0 LPCM Audio • Subtitles: English [Hardcoded]

Clocking in at just over the fifteen-hour mark, Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s sprawling 14-part epic (13 main episodes and an extended epilogue) can often feel like something of an endurance test in its exhausting and uncompromising depiction of human psychology and self destruction, though those willing to immerse themselves in Fassbinder’s singular masterpiece will discover a profound and challenging work that rewards through a combination of filmmaking brilliance and sheer perseverance.

Adapted by Fassbinder from Alfred Döblin’s hugely important 1929 Weimar novel of the same name, Berlin Alexanderplatz is set in and around the working-class neighbourhoods of Berlin in 1928, and begins with the rather aptly titled first episode, “The Punishment Begins”, which sees antihero Franz Biberkopf (Günter Lamprecht) released from Tegel Penitentiary (still Germany’s largest prison) after serving four years for the manslaughter of his girlfriend, Ida (Barbara Valentin).

Over the course of the next 12 episodes, and a rather surreal epilogue, we then play witness to Franz’ brutal attempts to make a fresh start in a vibrant and chaotic Berlin bustling with decadence, prostitution and crime. Despite his best efforts, Franz soon finds himself drawn back into a cycle he cannot escape and must struggle to survive against all odds.

Fassbinder’s dense, multi-layered and richly textured work delivers a powerful and challenging meditation on humanity, misery, opportunity (or lack of), character and survival, with the imminent rise of Nazism lurking ominously in the background.

Often appearing on lists of the greatest films ever made, Berlin Alexanderplatz notably navigates that fine line between where television ends and film begins, preceding the likes of Twin Peaks by a decade. Despite shooting on 16mm film and employing a 4:3 aspect ratio (both fairly typical in TV at the time), Fassbinder’s work feels significantly more cinematic than the made for TV miniseries label would suggest, with a scale and a fluid narrative that bears little resemblance to conventional episodic television.

Second Sight’s new limited edition package is nothing short of exceptional, featuring a superb presentation that cleans up the rather murky sepia of previous editions and retains the authentic grain, alongside a host of essential special features. The presentation is taken from the 2005 restoration by the German Cultural Institute (who claimed the original 16mm film negative was in “catastrophic physical condition” and “must be restored”), and the 2006 35mm remastered version that premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival back in 2007, exactly 25 years after Fassbinder’s death.

Special Features: 

  • Limited edition deluxe box set (2000 copies only)
  • ‘Fassbinder: Love Without Demands’ – The acclaimed 2015 feature length documentary by Christian Braad Thomsen
  • An appreciation by writer and critic Tony Rayns
  • Berlin Alexanderplatz – A Visual Essay by Daniel Bird
  • ‘A Mega Movie and its Story’ documentary by Juliane Lorenz
  • ‘The Making of Berlin Alexanderplatz’
  • ‘The Restoration’ documentary including ‘before and after’
  • The Original Recaps
  • Berlinale 2007 trailer
  • 60-page perfect bound book featuring new essay by Cahiers Du Cinema’s Stephane du Mesnildot and archive material by Wim Wenders, Thomas Elsasser and Christian Braad Thomsen

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