Rainer Werner Fassbinder's 1980 magnum opus, Berlin Alexanderplatz — a famous, looming monster running fifteen-plus hours — is more like a near-endless descent into an already-hellish Weimar Germany, where the women are bawling trash, the men are lurking hyenas, and the newly modern world is a combustion engine run on souls. What happens is like the slo-mo footage of a fatal car wreck: Franz Biberkopf (Günter Lamprecht), a bullish, dim lug of a man, is released from a prison stint for manslaughter and thrust back into his old life of pimping and violence, photographed in the ocher haze of an opium den. "The Punishment Begins" is the opening-chapter title; from there, it's clear that Biberkopf is unhinging, and as his struggle to stay honest and happy becomes truly hopeless, the film takes on the aura of a saintly tribulation. It's so doggedly crushing, you can only imagine how much it helped kill Fassbinder, less than two years later. Newly remastered, the work screens here on actual 35mm.
Really long movies can feel like alternate realities, but