Set in pre-war Germany Rainer Werner Fassbinder's The Stationmaster's Wife is a loose retake on the famous story of Madam Bovary where the sultry Hanni Bolwieser (Elizabeth Trissenaar) enjoys the attention of the men in the provincial town where she lives. Hanni's often depressed husband Xaver Bolwieser (Kurt Raab) is incapable of satisfying the sexual appetite of his wife and as the time goes by he loses control over their brittle relationship as well. Now fully consumed by her carnal yearnings Hanni embarks on a string of passionate affairs where sex is the only thing she desires.
Originally structured as a two part TV production clocking in at well over 210 minutes Fassibnder's The Sationmaster's Wife is a curious project that has been edited, re-written, and ultimately adapted for the big screen omitting more than 100 minutes of film material. Nevertheless the core of the film has been preserved and for a viewer unfamiliar with the original TV version I am quite certain the present 112 minute version will certainly suffice. Unfortunately the story and direction of this little known in North America film leaves much to be desired.
The Stationmaster's Wife, or better known as Bolweiser, strives to be a film where the sexual exploits of a woman bored with her family take a central role. We are introduced to a couple which is certainly heading to a disastrous ending of their relationship for reasons we are not quite so sure we understand. At least not until we learn more about the frivolous nature of Hanni Bolweiser. Fassbinder's story takes an enormously long time to introduce the reasons why the stationmaster's wife is so avidly looking to engage in sexual rendezvous where men are being replaced as used napkins. It certainly took me awhile to reconstruct the motives behind Hanni's actions and I am certain I did not miss anything from the "secrecy" of the storyline.
Aside from the sexual element in this film, which makes it half-way tolerable, I think that many will find the The Stationmaster's Wife difficult to endure. Fassbinder is enormously visual director and his camera often tells stories where dialog takes a secondary role. Unfortunately this TV production heads nowhere as neither the visuals nor the narrative were attractive enough to keep my attention aroused. In fact the more I concentrated on the story the more frustrated I got as I did not understand whether I was supposed to care about Hanni's actions or confute them. Quite a strange occurrence indeed as typically I tend to easily relate to the actions of the main protagonist(s), regardless of their "social weight".
I suppose the biggest disappointment with this film is the part where all missing components must line up and deliver a satisfactory for the storyline resolution. Quite frankly none was achieved. On the contrary after having endured the sexual escapades of the stationmaster's wife I felt somewhat indifferent to her fate, not because I disproved her choices, but because the story never really picked up my attention. Even the erotic scenes were rather grey, forced, and in my humble opinion artificially looking.
I consider Rainer Werner Fassbinder to be one of the greatest directors Germany has ever produced and his works have had a paramount importance for the current state of German cinema. His legacy of films has influenced not only German filmmakers but also a number of European directors that regard him as a source of tremendous inspiration. To this day many of the TV productions he directed during the 70s (Acht Stunden sind kein Tag a.k.a Eight Hours Are not a Day) and especially during the 80s (Berlin Alexanderplatz) are being regularly broadcast on German TV networks. The Stationmaster's Wife certainly appears to be one of his more conventional works which quite frankly barely scratches the surface of the enormous talent he possessed as a director.
How Does the DVD Look?
I have some very mixed feelings about this DVD presentation. Offered in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 the print for The Stationmaster's Wife certainly leaves much to be desired. Colors are muted, contrast average at best, and the image suffers from some visible digital manipulation (very distracting pixilation being one of the major issues). Aside from that I have some very serious suspicions that New Yorker did not use a proper digital source for this DVD release. This might well be one of those DVDs where the print was simply transferred from a half-decent VHS tape. In any event this is quite a disappointing presentation.
How Does the DVD Sound?
Presented with its original German mono track The Stationmaster's Wife offers some passable quality but considering how unusual the video presentation is the audio track will surely be the last thing you want to worry about should you decide to give this film a chance. With optional white German subtitles.
Aside from a few trailers for other upcoming New Yorker films there are no extras to be found on this DVD.
I have not completely given up on New Yorker but releases such as this one make me shake my head in disbelief. I am a passionate Fassbinder fan and I am certainly disappointed that a director with such a status is being treated with such lack of respect (avoid the fact that this is not Fassbinder's best work…but what if it was). I hope to see New Yorker back where they belong rather soon and if that should take reaching the bottom before bouncing back to the top...so be it!! Rent it!!