Kurt Raab, the hero of 1970’s Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? (screening as part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s “Fassbinder: Romantic Anarchist” retrospective), enjoys what Pritchett would have called a life of “congenial monotony” — though it hardly seems to afford him much happiness.
For roughly 80 minutes, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Michael Fengler plunge us headlong into the sprawling vanilla blankness of Kurt’s daily routine, where at both work and at home he is permitted to occupy only the corner of the frame.
Kurt is a man who has long since receded into the background of his own existence: Whether pottering about the house he shares with his socialite wife (Lilith Ungerer) or toiling listlessly in an office where nobody pays him much mind, he seems most content to go about his business unharassed and, indeed, unnoticed.
Unmoored long takes feel forever on the verge of pulling our attention toward livelier subjects, as if not even a film about Kurt’s life can be bothered to remain interested in it. Fassbinder and Fengler opt to impress upon us a sense of almost unbearable tedium, a strategy so effective that, when drama arrives in the film’s closing minutes, the eruption of violence feels like a kind of relief.
The act itself is swift and simple: One evening, Kurt wields a candlestick like a club and, as unceremoniously as he does anything else, sharply punctures the bubble of his apathetic life. Kurt, we sense, never aspired to anything more than mediocrity. The film is a lament for his only recourse: to extinguish.