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Despair [DVD] 
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Chocolate, cuckoldry and doppelganger delusion abound in Rainer Werner Fassbinder's stunning English language adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov interwar novel.
The chocolate business has been good to Russian exile Hermann. He enjoys the good life with his beautiful wife Lydia. But Hermann is addicted to out-of-body experiences and when he meets a tramp on a business trip, he develops an insane plan of escape.
Featuring international stars Dirk Bogarde (Death in Venice) and Andréa Ferréol (La Grande Bouffe) and adapted by British dramatist Tom Stoppard (Shakespeare in Love), Fassbinder s Despair is a vivid off-kilter masterwork set against the background of the Nazis in ascendance. This DVD version of Fassbinder s most optimistic film is accompanied by exclusive bonus material.
Documentary "The Cinema and It Double" (70 minutes)
Awards and Accreditations:
A Cannes Classic and Nominated for Palme d Or
German Film Awards (1978): Outstanding Individual Achievement: Direction for Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Outstanding Individual Achievement: Cinematography for Michael Balhaus.
Outstanding Individual Achievement: Production Design for Rolf Zehetbauer
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Top customer reviews
Fassbinder, was at the pinnacle of his creativity and his ability, found himself working along side international stars the caliber of Dirk Bogarde, enticed out of semi-retirement to work with the German New Wave director, and French actress Andrea Ferreol, whose debut film La Grande bouffe (1973) had coursed quite a sensation at the Cannes Film Festival. Un-be-known to the director this beautiful voluptuous actress had to learn English to play the part of Lydia!
The chocolate manufacturer Herman Herman (Bogarde) an exiled Russian, is having a mid-life crisis. His wife Lydia (Ferreol), a child woman, is in a strange relationship with her `cousin', his business is on the verge of bankruptcy and the National Socialists are gaining ground. But worse still Herman is addicted to out of body experiences to the extent that he can watch himself make love to his not to bright but absolutely desirable wife. He would love to perfect this ability to double himself; in the process he meets a tramp on one of his business trips and is convinced that the man is his doppelgänger. For what he sees's as `his journey towards the light' he hatches an insane plan.
Bogarde gave one of his best performances for the German enfant terrible responding to the young genius, which he respected greatly, by making the affected mad man Herman Herman a totally believable character. The objective behind the film, according to RWF, was that a person could go voluntarily insane `'A film that ask the question what does madness actually mean and does it still leave the opportunity for life in ones own fantasies and in ones own world, which is also independent and free. Because madness is not portrayed here in a personalized way, in other words, specific to Herman Herman that's not what I wanted"
Filmed in Germany at the Bavaria Studios, except the final scenes that were filmed in Switzerland, this was Fassbinder's 31st movie one for each year of his life, having his 31st birthday during the filming. Originally over 3 hours long it was cut by 30 minutes but the studio insisted that the film be reduced even more. Again the RWF trademarks were there, reflections with the use of mirrors and glass influenced on this occasion by the final scenes of Orson Welles The Lady from Shanghai (1947) allowing the doubling he required, the zoom and the tracking all imitated by the soundtrack that in it self formed an important part of this work.
Although the film was compared to the work of Visconti and Berman it was not a great success at Cannes, with the general public and the critics denying Fassbinder his big international break through, which he was eventually to achieve with The Marriage of Maria Braun (1978), his greatest success.
It's a film that, in its surviving two hour form, never really comes together, Tom Stoppard's script filled with intriguing ideas and Fassbinder's direction the odd striking visual - not least the array of glass corridors, cages and labyrinths that limit Hermann's freedom and constantly hem him in - that it never makes enough of en route to its Sunset Boulevard-inspired ending. And yet there remains something fascinating about Bogarde's absolute conviction that everything in his plan is foolproof when to outside eyes everything is so patently absurd and half-baked, and the way the lack of resemblance becomes the elephant in the room pointing to his delusion to all and sundry yet somehow passes him by completely. Relocating the novel's setting from pre-WW2 Prague to Germany in the days before the Nazis came to power makes perfect sense, not only allowing Fassbinder to draw on Weimar Germany's rich tradition of headline-grabbing deluded murderers but also because it's the perfect mirror image for its tale of an intelligent man who gets everything wrong as he convinces himself he's moving towards the light instead of his own destruction. It's tempting to wonder if the political parallels were more explicit in the original two-and-a-half hour cut before he was forced to cut the film back by another half hour, though the point is perhaps more effective for not being so over-laboured in the finished film. What we're left with exerts as much fascination as it does disappointment, one of those sporadically absorbing failures that it's as hard to entirely dismiss as it is to entirely embrace.
Curiously Olive's Region-free US Blu-ray release of the restored two hour version of the film is the only one presented at the correct speed of 24fps (the German and UK releases are both 25fps for some reason). Although one of its two sets of end credits listing an actor in a deleted scene, none of the lost footage has been restored though, thankfully, despite a restoration credit for `degraining,' it's a very respectable transfer that looks like film with no excessive DNR. Although the German and UK discs also include a stills gallery, the only extra on the US disc is an excellent 73-minute documentary on Fassbinder and the film, The Cinema and Its Double, which also features on the other releases.