The appeal of Kamikaze ’89 is largely necrophilic: Wolf Gremm’s sci-fi bibelot premiered in West Germany on July 16, 1982 — one month after the death of its star, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, here in his final role as an actor. (Querelle, the last movie directed by the furiously prodigious kino-giant, debuted later that year.)
Only 36 when Kamikaze ’89 was shot, RWF, bloated, heavy-lidded, and sallow, looks like he’s in the first stages of pallor mortis. But he still cuts a charismatic figure in a leopard-print suit with a salmon- colored shirt, his gut straining the lower buttons. That outfit is the signature attire of his character, Jansen, a police lieutenant tasked with uncovering a plot to bomb the HQ of the Combine, a multimedia conglomerate in a futuristic Deutschland.
Kamikaze ’89 has its prophetic moments: The year of the title — when “the Federal Republic of Germany has solved its problems,” per the opening voiceover from the Combine’s personnel director (Brigitte Mira, an RWF regular) — would also see, of course, the fall of the Berlin Wall. And our own insatiable appetite for reality-TV idiocy is presaged in Gremm’s movie by the overwhelming popularity of the Combine-sponsored Laughing Contest, watched by “99.3 percent of all households.”
When the increasingly knotty conspiracy plot that motors Kamikaze ’89 grows too unintelligible or dull, Gremm has the good sense to cut to the film’s greatest set piece and sadly yet-to-be realized innovation: the Police Disco, where Jansen squeezes in a few solo games of racquetball while quad-skating colleagues gyrate under neon lights.
Directed by Wolf Gremm
Film Movement Classics
BAMcinématek, June 3–9