WHY DOES HERR R. RUN AMOK? (Warum läuft Herr R. Amok?)

(director/writer: Rainer Werner Fassbinder/Michael Fengler; cinematographer: Dietrich Lohmann; editor: Rainer Werner Fassbinder/Michael Fengler; music: Joachim Heider/Peer Raben; cast: Kurt Raab (Herr R.), Lilith Ungerer (Herr R’s Wife), Amadeus Fengler (Their Son), Irm Hermann (neighbor), Franz Maron (The Boss), Hanna Schygulla (Schoolfriend), Mr. Sterr (Father), Mrs. Sterr (Mother), Harry Baer (Colleague), Peter Holand (Colleague), Lilo Pempeit (Colleague); Runtime: 68; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Peer Raben/Michael Fengler; New Yorker Films; 1970-West Germany-in German with English subtitles)

“Works as caustic anti-theater theater.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s fourth film, codirected by him and Michael Fengler in a communal effort, is a deadpan black comedy/psychological drama about the madness of the materialistic middle-class trapped into living a dull life of bourgeois conformity. It’s set in contemporary Munich and follows the nuclear family of a portly well-dressed misfit draftsman named Herr Rabb (Kurt Raab), his bourgeois homemaker wife (Lilith Ungerer) and school-aged son Amadeus (Amadeus Fengler). Herr Rabb has worked for a year and a half at a small architectural firm run by Mr. Maron (Franz Maron), and displays a loyalty and quiet respect for his colleagues. The couple function harmoniously attending a parent-teacher conference and acting concerned about their son’s schoolwork, watching television evenings and planning for the future. After seeing our man at work in the office, getting his semi-annual check-up and given a clean bill of health, and tipsy at a dinner-party he threw for his colleagues and boss, we see him one night watching television with his non-stop talking neighbor (Irm Hermann) and his wife. The neighbor prattles on talking about skiing until her conversation turns into so much white noise. Herr R., who has been silent all this time, suddenly gets up and calmly picks up a lamp and without uttering a word bludgeons to death the neighbor, his wife and child. The next day he reports to work on time and when the police arrive, they find he has hanged himself in the men’s room.

Why does Herr R. run amok? The mild-mannered man cracks and goes into a meltdown, but it’s anyone’s guess why he broke at this point when he seemed to be lifeless and without reason to live from the opening act. These shocking things happen all the time to the invisible men Herr R. represents. If you don’t think so, just check the tabloids.

Made for under $10,000, the film seems stupidly funny and provocatively tragic at the same time; it was filmed to ape a mood of monotony, to both mock and empathize with the couple’s oppressive life and dull the viewer’s sensibilities into not caring that even a child is slain (just like it’s in real-life when you watch the local news on television and there’s one bloody story after another). It’s not for everyone, but it works as caustic anti-theater theater.

Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? Poster