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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » The Merchant of Four Seasons (Blu-ray)
The Merchant of Four Seasons (Blu-ray)
The Criterion Collection // Unrated // May 26, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ian Jane | posted May 29, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

The late Rainer Werner Fassbinder's The Merchant Of Four Seasons tells the story of a man named Hans Epp (Hans Hirschmuller) and his wife Irmgard (Irm Hermann). Hans ekes out a very meager living selling fruit on the streets of his native Munich but the sad reality is, he and his wife are broke. Making matters worse is the fact that there are very definite trust issues on the part of Irmgard, something that Hans takes offense to. One night, when he gets back from a local tavern, his temper gets the best of him and a conversation soon turns violent. When he beats Irmgard in front of their daughter, Renate (Andrea Schober), his wife finally decides she's had enough and she leaves him, taking Renate with her.

This causes a paradigm shift in Hans. He is understandably upset that his wife is gone but he knows he is entirely responsible for what he did to her. Eventually he talks her into coming back to him and she agrees. When he has a health scare he decides it's time to give things one last go and so he and Irmagard spend what little money they have left on a new fruit cart, hiring Hans' friend Harry (Klaus Lowitsch), to man it for them. Things are off to a good start and money starts coming in but Hans can't help but notice that his old friend Harry is spending more time with Irmgard than he'd like, and this sends him into a downward spiral of depression and alcoholism.

The Merchant Of Four Seasons is grim stuff to be sure but there's definitely a satirical element at work here that, if it never uplifts anything or turns this into a comedic venture, at least helps to make it all watchable and even entertaining. Hans really just can't catch a break. Much of his misfortune is his own doing but of course, once he really does make the effort to turn things around it would seem to be too late. Fassbinder's films aren't known for affording their lead characters a real chance at redemption and this one is no different. We see all of this play out through a series of expositional vignettes contained within the main narrative where Hans' back story is elaborated on. Be it an encounter with a street walker that ends the policing career he once had or some less than positive interaction with family members objecting to his time spent in the military. This leads us to at least understand why Hans is as antisocial as he is by the end of the movie (something that carries through into the very tone of the movie itself) but his life would seem to be little more than a series of bad luck and poor decisions.

The performances contained in the film really sell it though. Irm Hermann is great as the wife. We don't always agree with her decisions even when Hans is at his worst but we certainly understand why, after he raises his hand to her, she'd take her daughter and run. Hermann commits here, she's definitely giving her all and her work in the film is admirable. Andrea Schober isn't given as much to do here but is as close to a truly sympathetic character as we're allowed in the film. Klaus Lowitsch does fine work as Hans' supposed friend. Lowitsch brings a shiftiness to the roll that suits it well and as his character's roll in the movie is expanded upon, our feelings for the character shift appropriately. At the same time, we have to wonder if Irmgard might be better off with Harry instead of Hans after all? Of course none of this would work as well as it does without Hans Hirschmuller in the lead. He's a typical sad sack, drinking his way through life to the point where it really does seem that he couldn't give a toss what anyone else thinks about him or the way that he lives. As the movie evolves, we understand through Hirschmuller's work how depressed Hans has become with life in general, his drinking the only coping mechanism he seems to care for. Hirschmuller is completely convincing here.

The movie has an interesting look to it. The film is a fairly gritty looking one, not a picture full of tons of bright, happy colors but instead a somewhat industrial looking movie with some interesting moments where bright colors are used to provide visual contrast to the gloominess of it all. The editing and pacing work perfectly alongside the nuanced performances and involving storyline.

The Blu-ray:


The Merchant Of Four Seasons arrives on Blu-ray framed at 1.33.1 fullframe in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. Like a lot of the director's output this movie has as fairly gritty, lifelike appearance meaning that it's not overly lit or artificial looking but instead has an almost documentary like feel to it. This is replicated nicely by way of Criterion's transfer which is presented in very nice condition but without a lot of obvious digital smoothing. The image is free of noise reduction and as such the picture's grain structure remains very much intact. Colors are reproduced quite naturally, never too hot or too cold, while skin tones look lifelike and natural. Edge enhancement and compression artifacts are never a problem and all in all this is a nicely detailed and textured film-like image.


The only audio option on the disc is a German language LPCM Mono track with subtitles provided in English only. The audio here is crisp, clear and true to form. Everything is nicely balanced, the dialogue has nice presence to it and there's about as much depth to the single track option as is likely possible. There are no problems with any hiss or distortion and the levels are about where you'd expect they should be. This isn't a particularly fancy track (there's no score in the film) but it suits the tone of the movie well and it's free of any problems.


Extras being with an audio commentary from filmmaker Wim Wenders that is a thorough critical analysis of the picture by way of an appreciation for the director. Wenders has long been a champion of Fassbinder's work and he knows his stuff. Here he elaborates on some of the themes that the film explores, how they relate to the director and more. He also discusses the cast, their contributions to the film and their effectiveness, the locations and quite a bit more.

The disc also includes an interviews with actor Irm Hermann who speaks for just over nine minutes about working on this film and what it was like for her, and with actor Hans Hirschmuller who spends just over thirteen minutes covering similar ground to that covered by his associate. Both are interesting and give some insight as to what it would have been like to work with the late Fassbinder. Film scholar Eric Rentschler then spends twenty-six minutes in front of the camera offering up his appreciation for the film as he talks about the themes, the performances and simultaneously gives us a decent production history. Menus and chapter selection round out the extras and tucked away inside the keepcase is an insert booklet of liner notes made up of movie and disc credits and an essay from film scholar Thomas Elsaesser.

Final Thoughts:

While The Merchant Of Four Seasons at first seems like a fairly standard drama about the toils of the middle class, it quickly unfolds into a complicated character study that espouses on many of lives trials and tribulations ripe with some effective moments of black comedy. It's well acted and solid in direction and execution and Criterion's Blu-ray offers it up in excellent shape and with some interesting and informative supplemental features as well. Recommended.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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