The Third Generation (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1979)

by Smart

This is a black comedy about terrorism, written, directed, and even cinematographed, by Rainer Werner Fassbinder himself. It is interesting how suddenly pertinent the message contained in this film has become today, no doubt even more so than when it was first released and caused a public outrage. The Third Generation goes far, far beyond its genre confines and reaches out to thematic territory and social satire that is pleasantly rich and enjoyable to find in such a genuinely quirky and amusing film. In this self-reflexive near-dystopia you will find crime, surveillance, drug use, secret passwords, a reference to Tarkovsky’s Solaris, and most importantly, an entourage of badly dressed, ridiculous characters who are trying vainly to make it as amateur terrorists. There is randomness in all the right places: random Monopoly, random nudity, even random tantrums. It’s impossible not to laugh at the absurdity.

Fassbinder pulled off camp perfectly, and he even modified his flawless visual style to accommodate for a few Dutch-angles, over the top low-angles, and shock zooms, all the while maintaining his signature use of mirrors, focus and dolly shots. His ability to create dynamic framing in any situation increases the humour within the narrative, and does not drag it down or obstruct it at all. This gives the film a very compulsive atmosphere, which just begs you to interact with the distinctive and enigmatic characters. On a technical level, it is not Fassbinder’s most polished film, and extra effort could have been put into the lighting, which does occasionally play off noir conventions, but not nearly as much as it could have. Overall, however, it is a fantastic time. Pseudo-philosophy is thrown about at a rapid pace, manipulative music swells with great timing, and as the tension builds, the deaths get more ridiculous, as do the costumes, and the bursts of laughter come with ever increasing frequency. This is a tight, wicked work from a genius director, and worth watching just to see Udo Kier (and several others) dressed in drag.