Despair


1h 59m 1978

Brief Synopsis

Germany in the early 1930s. Against the backdrop of the Nazis' rise, Hermann Hermann, a Russian émigré and chocolate magnate, goes slowly mad. It begins with his seating himself in a chair to observe himself making love to his wife, Lydia, a zaftig empty-headed siren who is also sleeping with her cousin. Hermann is soon given to intemperate outbursts at his workers, other businessmen, and strangers. Then, he meets Felix, an itinerant laborer, whom he delusionally believes looks exactly like himself. Armed with a new life insurance policy, he hatches an elaborate plot in the belief it will free him of all his worries.

Film Details

Also Known As
Eine Reise ins Licht, Reise ins Licht, Eine
Release Date
1978
Distribution Company
Gala Film Distributors Ltd; New Line Cinema
Location
West Germany

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 59m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Eastmancolor)

Synopsis

Hermann, a Russian emigre owner of a failing candy factory, is fed up with his plump wife and has developed a habit of dissociating himself from his body to the point that he can watch himself make love. Set during the 1930's and confronted with the Nazi rise to power, Hermann ultimately works out a lucrative murder-suicide.

Film Details

Also Known As
Eine Reise ins Licht, Reise ins Licht, Eine
Release Date
1978
Distribution Company
Gala Film Distributors Ltd; New Line Cinema
Location
West Germany

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 59m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Eastmancolor)

Articles

Despair - Dirk Bogarde in DESPAIR - R.W. Fassbinder's 1978 Adaptation of a Vladimir Nabokov Novel


Darkly perverse and intellectually challenging, the 1978 Rainer Werner Fassbinder film Despair is a remarkable collision of creative talent. Directed by avant garde German wunderkid Fassbinder, the film was adapted by playwright Tom Stoppard from a novel by Vladimir Nabokov and stars the equally risk-embracing Dirk Bogarde (Death in Venice, 1971, The Night Porter, 1974, Darling, 1965) in the lead role. The legendary cinematographer Michael Ballhaus (Goodfellas, 1990, Quiz Show, 1994) shot the film, greatly enhancing its claustrophobic, hall-of-mirrors quality with his cat and mouse camerawork.

A cross between Willy Wonka and Scarlet Street's (1945) duped lover played by Edward G. Robinson, Hermann Hermann (Dirk Bogarde) is a Russian émigré and a chocolate factory owner at the center of the film. His shallow, promiscuous wife Lydia (Andrea Ferreol) is a debauched glamour puss carrying on a transparently adulterous affair with her cousin Ardalion (Volker Spengler) beneath Hermann's nose. The setting is 1930s Berlin as Hitler rises to power, a circumstance Hermann blithely ignores, consumed as he is by his own delusions. Adultery is the least of Hermann's worries. He is consumed by detachment from his own life. That alienation is illustrated in Fassbinder's decision to have Hermann's doppelganger watch himself, for instance, as he makes love to his wife.

As the story progresses Hermann becomes convinced that a strapping, handsome unemployed laborer Felix Weber (Klaus Lowitsch) is his absolute twin, though in fact they look nothing alike. Hermann hatches a plan to trade identities with Felix, part of a master plan to get money through an elaborate insurance swindle involving killing his "double."

Theatrical, witty and utterly perverse, Despair originated in a 1936 novel by famed Russian novelist Vladimir Nabokov and features a self-defeating hero who recalls Nabokov's notorious underage philanderer Humbert Humbert in his 1955 classic of a similarly self-destructive, thrillingly doomed man, Lolita.

Paying a debt to his acknowledged directorial inspiration Douglas Sirk, Fassbinder, production designer Rolf Zehetbauer and cinematographer Michael Ballhaus create the kind of setting in Lydia and Hermann's apartment that recalls the entrapping, reflective surfaces in Sirk's melodramatic classics like All That Heaven Allows (1955) and Imitation of Life (1959) The setting often looks like nothing so much as a confectionary fantasy, as seen in the lilac-colored uniforms and lilac trucks that define the look of Hermann's candy factory. The hyperbolic deceptiveness of the set design only echoes the themes of false surfaces and self-deceit in the film as a whole.

Fassbinder said of his first English-language film, "Despair comes from the awareness that in everyone's life there comes a point where not only the mind but the body, too, understands that it's over. I want to go on with my life, but there will be no new feelings or experiences for me. At this point people start to rearrange their lives." Hermann is most definitely in the process of rearranging, although that process comes with a shattering, ultimately disastrous streak of self-deception.

Nominated for a Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival Despair marked the first time that Fassbinder worked with another's screenplay, in this case that of renowned dramatist Tom Stoppard, known for his philosophical plays such as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead and The Invention of Love.

Vincent Canby wrote in a 1979 The New York Times review of Despair, "Unlike some of his European colleagues who've not been able to make the transition to English-language films (I think especially of Alain Resnais and the late Luchino Visconti), Mr. Fassbinder succeeds brilliantly, with the great help, of course, of Mr. Stoppard.

For more information about Despair, visit Olive Films. To order Despair, go to TCM Shopping.

by Felicia Feaster
Despair - Dirk Bogarde In Despair - R.w. Fassbinder's 1978 Adaptation Of A Vladimir Nabokov Novel

Despair - Dirk Bogarde in DESPAIR - R.W. Fassbinder's 1978 Adaptation of a Vladimir Nabokov Novel

Darkly perverse and intellectually challenging, the 1978 Rainer Werner Fassbinder film Despair is a remarkable collision of creative talent. Directed by avant garde German wunderkid Fassbinder, the film was adapted by playwright Tom Stoppard from a novel by Vladimir Nabokov and stars the equally risk-embracing Dirk Bogarde (Death in Venice, 1971, The Night Porter, 1974, Darling, 1965) in the lead role. The legendary cinematographer Michael Ballhaus (Goodfellas, 1990, Quiz Show, 1994) shot the film, greatly enhancing its claustrophobic, hall-of-mirrors quality with his cat and mouse camerawork. A cross between Willy Wonka and Scarlet Street's (1945) duped lover played by Edward G. Robinson, Hermann Hermann (Dirk Bogarde) is a Russian émigré and a chocolate factory owner at the center of the film. His shallow, promiscuous wife Lydia (Andrea Ferreol) is a debauched glamour puss carrying on a transparently adulterous affair with her cousin Ardalion (Volker Spengler) beneath Hermann's nose. The setting is 1930s Berlin as Hitler rises to power, a circumstance Hermann blithely ignores, consumed as he is by his own delusions. Adultery is the least of Hermann's worries. He is consumed by detachment from his own life. That alienation is illustrated in Fassbinder's decision to have Hermann's doppelganger watch himself, for instance, as he makes love to his wife. As the story progresses Hermann becomes convinced that a strapping, handsome unemployed laborer Felix Weber (Klaus Lowitsch) is his absolute twin, though in fact they look nothing alike. Hermann hatches a plan to trade identities with Felix, part of a master plan to get money through an elaborate insurance swindle involving killing his "double." Theatrical, witty and utterly perverse, Despair originated in a 1936 novel by famed Russian novelist Vladimir Nabokov and features a self-defeating hero who recalls Nabokov's notorious underage philanderer Humbert Humbert in his 1955 classic of a similarly self-destructive, thrillingly doomed man, Lolita. Paying a debt to his acknowledged directorial inspiration Douglas Sirk, Fassbinder, production designer Rolf Zehetbauer and cinematographer Michael Ballhaus create the kind of setting in Lydia and Hermann's apartment that recalls the entrapping, reflective surfaces in Sirk's melodramatic classics like All That Heaven Allows (1955) and Imitation of Life (1959) The setting often looks like nothing so much as a confectionary fantasy, as seen in the lilac-colored uniforms and lilac trucks that define the look of Hermann's candy factory. The hyperbolic deceptiveness of the set design only echoes the themes of false surfaces and self-deceit in the film as a whole. Fassbinder said of his first English-language film, "Despair comes from the awareness that in everyone's life there comes a point where not only the mind but the body, too, understands that it's over. I want to go on with my life, but there will be no new feelings or experiences for me. At this point people start to rearrange their lives." Hermann is most definitely in the process of rearranging, although that process comes with a shattering, ultimately disastrous streak of self-deception. Nominated for a Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival Despair marked the first time that Fassbinder worked with another's screenplay, in this case that of renowned dramatist Tom Stoppard, known for his philosophical plays such as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead and The Invention of Love. Vincent Canby wrote in a 1979 The New York Times review of Despair, "Unlike some of his European colleagues who've not been able to make the transition to English-language films (I think especially of Alain Resnais and the late Luchino Visconti), Mr. Fassbinder succeeds brilliantly, with the great help, of course, of Mr. Stoppard. For more information about Despair, visit Olive Films. To order Despair, go to TCM Shopping. by Felicia Feaster

Quotes

Trivia

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1978

Released in United States 1997

Shown at New York Film Festival September-October 1978.

Released in United States 1978

Released in United States 1978 (Shown at New York Film Festival September-October 1978.)

Released in United States 1997 (Shown in New York City (Walter Reade) as part of Rainer Werner Fassbinder and his Friends May 9 - June 5, 1997.)