The Film (4/5)
One thing I have always appreciated about the film's of Rainier Werner Fassbinder is his focus not on the winner's of life, but the real people of the world (I refuse to say the losers). Even successful characters like the great designer Petra von Kant or Maria Braun show the signs of their post-war German struggles in Fassbinder's world, and thus the drama in his film's feels more real and lived in in other similar narrative dramas.
Fassbinder's Merchant of Four Seasons follows the life of Hans, an ex-police officer, and current fruit peddler, who just before the film began returned from service with the foreign legion. Unfortunately for his family he returned alive, because according to them only the good die young, and useless people like him keep going on. Hans is married to Irmgard, and has a young daughter with her, Renate. Their relationship is unsatisfactory for all involved, but especially for Irmgard. Who is beaten early on for questioning the whereabouts of Hans. This causes Irmgard to leave him, and take up with Hansí own family, who loathes him, and sees him as a loser.
Eventually the stress surrounding this situation, and life in general will cause Hans to have a heart attack. He will convince Irmgard to give him another chance, they will get another fruit cart, but Hans cannot work it, and the person they hire to do so, will have an affair with Irmgard, this continues the downward spiral of events for Hans.
Merchant of Four Seasons is not the best of Fassbinder's work I have seen. I would not place it along such classics as Marriage of Maria Braun, Fox and her Friends, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, and Beware of a Holy Whore. However, the film has recently appeared on Martin Scorsese's list of essential foreign films, and in all honestly the film like most of Fassbinder's film is all too watchable. In the case of Merchant it works on two levels, the great dramatic performances that populate the film, and the sense that things will continue to get worse for our protagonist, and to see just where things will go. The film is not Fassbinder's most stylish. It is shot in a very quick and fast way, almost documentary style, that seems to just get the story covered, and not much more. In a way, this stylistic decision works for the world of Merchant..., as it appears that we are observing the life of Hans, and not the film of the life of Hans.
Criterion presents Merchant of Four Seasons in a quite nice 1:33:1 AVC encoded 1080p transfer that preserves the OAR of the film. The film has a very natural look and feel to it, almost documentary in style, and that is brought over to the transfer, colors and flesh tones are stable, and there is a healthy level of grain present here.
The audio is presented with an LPCM 1.0 mono track in German with optional English subs. The track is quite suitable with dialogue, and score coming through nicely, and no issues to complain about.
Criterion have put together a nice extras package for their release of Fassbinder's Merchant of Four Seasons. The Blu-ray has a wonderful audio commentary by Wings of Desire director Wim Wenders on the film that is very insightful. We also get 2 separate interviews with the film's 2 leads, an interview with a film historian on the film, and a leaflet with an essay on the film.
Merchant of Four Seasons is not my favorite Fassbinder, but it is still quite a powerful drama. The Blu-ray looks and sounds fantastic, and has a nice array of extras. RECOMMENDED.