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Rainter Werner Fassbinder's controversial, fifteen-hour-plus Berlin Alexanderplatz, based on Alfred Döblin's great modernist novel, was the crowning achievement of a prolific director who at age thirty-four, had already made forty films. Fassbinder's immersive epic, restored in 2006 and available on DVD for the first time, follows the hulking childlike ex-convict Franz Biberkopf (Günter Lamprecht) as he attempts to "become an honest soul" amid the corrosive urban landscape of Weimar-era Germany. With equal parts cynicism and humanity, Fassbinder details a mammoth portrait of a common man struggling to survive in a viciously uncommon time.
This 14-episode West German TV miniseries aired in West Germany in 1980 on Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR), and was later broadcast in the UK on Channel 4 in 1985. It was, according to Time Magazine, "15 hours and 20 minutes of degradation redeemed by art".
Berlin Alexanderplatz - Part 1 "Die Strafe beginnif / The Punishment Begins"
Channel 4; Monday 19th August 1985
In 1928 Berlin, Franz Biberkopf is released after serving four years in Tegel prison for killing his girlfriend Ida. After settling into his old apartment he visits Minna, Ida's sister. Minna succumbs to his forceful advances. In a flashback we see Franz kill Ida with a cream whip after suspecting she was going to leave him. Franz later runs into his old friend Meck and has a drink with him in Max’s bar, a local place. There he meets a young Polish woman named Lina who moves in with him.
Berlin Alexanderplatz - Part 2 "Wie soll man leben, wenn man nicht sterben will / How is One to Live if One Doesn’t Want to Die?"
Channel 4; Tuesday 20th August 1985
Franz employs himself by hocking tie holders on the street but has trouble making enough money. He is talked into selling the fascist newspaper Völkischer Beobachter and wearing a swastika armband. At Max’s bar, Franz is confronted by an old acquaintance named Dreske. Dreske and his friends sing “The Internationale” to provoke Franz. They nearly come to blows before Franz collapses in a fit.
Berlin Alexanderplatz - Part 3 "Ein Hammer auf den Kopf kann die Seele verletzen / A Hammer Blow to the Head Can Injure the Soul"
Channel 4; Wednesday 21st August 1985
Lina is troubled by the shady nature of the jobs Franz is getting and has him meet a family friend, Otto Lüders, who has Franz join him selling shoelaces door-to-door. In one apartment, Franz encounters a woman whose deceased husband he closely resembles. He has sex with the widow and later tells Otto. Otto goes to the widow’s flat and attempts to seduce her, but she rejects him. Otto extorts money and steals from her in response. When Franz goes back to the widow, happily expecting another tryst, she angrily rejects him. Distraught, Franz runs away to live at a boarding-house while Meck and Lina search for him.
Berlin Alexanderplatz - Part 4 "Eine Handvoll Menschen in der Tiefe der Stille / A Handful of People in the Depths of Silence"
Channel 4; Thursday 22nd August 1985
Franz goes on an alcohol binge as a former medical orderly looks over him. He runs into Meck on the street one day. Meck had been living with Lina until she left him.
Berlin Alexanderplatz - Part 5 "Ein Schnitter mit der Gewalt vom lieben Gott / A Reaper with the Power of Our Lord"
Channel 4; Monday 26th August 1985
Franz becomes re-acquainted with Eva, for whom he used to be a pimp and who feels a deep affection for him. At Max’s, Meck introduces Franz to Pums, the ringleader of an illegal enterprise. He also meets Reinhold, one of Pums’s men. Reinhold is tired of his woman, Fränze, and wants Franz to take her off his hands. Franz has her come over and makes love with her. She returns to him after she can’t find Reinhold. Reinhold then employs the same plan with his current woman, Cilly, whom Franz accommodates after getting rid of Fränze.
Berlin Alexanderplatz - Part 6 "Eine Liebe, das kostet immer viel / The High Cost of Love"
Channel 4; Tuesday 27th August 1985
Reinhold is desperate to get rid of his current woman, Trude, but Franz won’t take her and wants to stick with Cilly. Franz gets sucked into Pums’s gang when he is drafted for a job as a last-minute replacement for Bruno, who gets beaten in the street. Franz ends up as a lookout as Pums, Reinhold, and Meck pull a robbery. In the getaway truck, Reinhold becomes suspicious of Franz because of a car that seems to be following them. Reinhold throws Franz out of the back of the truck.
Berlin Alexanderplatz - Part 7 "Merke: Einen Schwur kann man amputieren / Remember — An Oath Too Can Be Amputated"
Channel 4; Wednesday 28th August 1985
Franz has survived the car accident, but his right arm has been amputated. He recuperates for a time with Eva and Eva’s lover Herbert. Herbert agitates against Pums’s syndicate, so the boss decides to take up a collection to help with Franz’s medical costs. Franz goes to a red light street and encounters a pimp who offers him a woman he calls the whore of Babylon.
Berlin Alexanderplatz - Part 8 "Die Sonne wärmt die Haut, die sie manchmal verbrennt / The Sun Warms the Skin, but Burns it Sometimes Too"
Channel 4; Monday 2nd September 1985
Franz gets involved in an illegal enterprise with Willy, whom he met at a cabaret. Eva and Herbert drop by to see Franz and bring a young woman they offer as a new lover. Franz and the tender-hearted woman, whom he names Mieze, fall for each other. However, their spell of love is broken when Franz finds a love letter from another man.
Berlin Alexanderplatz - Part 9 "Von den Ewigkeiten zwischen den Vielen und den Wenigen / About the Eternities Between the Many and the Few"
Channel 4; Tuesday 3rd September 1985
Eva explain to Franz that Mieze just wants to work to support him as Franz cannot do so due to his missing arm. He reconciles with Mieze. Franz goes to Reinhold’s and tells him how he has become a pimp. Reinhold is disgusted by Franz’s stump of an arm. Franz is inspired by a Communist rally and spouts his newly learned rhetoric to Eva and Herbert, which upsets Eva.
Berlin Alexanderplatz - Part 10 "Einsamkeit reißt auch in Mauern Risse des Irrsinns / Loneliness Can Crack the Walls of Madness"
Channel 4; Wednesday 4th September 1985
As Mieze cannot have children, Eva tells her she will have a child with Franz that Mieze can then raise. Mieze is delighted. Eva also tells Mieze she’s concerned that Franz is concerting with Willy and Communists. Mieze gets him to agree to stay out of politics. After Mieze describes the agreement made with Eva for Franz’s baby, Franz is horrified as he thinks Mieze wants to be rid of him. Mieze pleads that she loves him. The two get drunk and are happy until Mieze’s rich client arrives. Franz only finds out then that she is going away with him for three days and weeps in despair.
Berlin Alexanderplatz - Part 11 "Wissen ist Macht und Morgenstund hat Gold im Mund / Knowledge is Power and the Early Bird Catches the Worm"
Channel 4; Monday 9th September 1985
Franz goes to Reinhold and tells him he wants to get involved with Pums again. Reinhold still has his suspicions but Franz is allowed to assist the gang with a job. Mieze is upset that Franz is earning money because she thinks Franz wants to be independent of her, but Franz reassures her. Franz brags to Reinhold about Mieze’s devotion and decides to show him what a fine woman she is. In the apartment, Franz has Reinhold hide in the bed when Mieze arrives. She reveals she is in love with another man. Franz is angered and beats her cruelly, but Reinhold saves her and throws Franz out. Mieze goes out to Franz and the two reconcile, though she has been bloodied by him. Franz and Mieze take a trip outside Berlin, where he explains to her he simply wanted Reinhold to see a true woman.
Berlin Alexanderplatz - Part 12 "Die Schlange in der Seele der Schlange / The Serpent in the Soul of the Serpent"
Channel 4; Tuesday 10th September 1985
Franz introduces Mieze to Meck. Reinhold blackmails Meck to set up a meeting for him with Mieze. Meck takes Mieze on a drive to Freienwalde and delivers her to Reinhold. Reinhold takes her for a walk in the woods, where she resists his advances. Mieze wants to know more about Franz, and Reinhold reveals it is because of him that Franz lost his arm. Mieze is horrified at this revelation. Reinhold strangles her and leaves her in the woods.
Berlin Alexanderplatz - Part 13 "Das Äußere und das Innere und das Geheimnis der Angst vor dem Geheimnis / The Outside and the Inside and the Secret of Fear of the Secret"
Channel 4; Wednesday 11th September 1985
Franz tells Eva that Mieze has left him. Eva reassures him, though she is a bit concerned herself. A robbery pulled off by Pums’s gang goes wrong and Meck burns himself with a welding torch. Franz takes Meck to his apartment to bandage his wound. Meck tells Franz that Reinhold is a bad guy, but Franz claims he has a good heart. Meck takes the police out into the woods and helps them find Mieze’s strangled body, telling them he helped to bury her. Eva brings Franz a newspaper that relates Mieze’s murder. Franz lapses into demented laughter, claiming he is pleased that at least Mieze did not leave him as he had thought.
Berlin Alexanderplatz - Part 14 "Mein Traum vom Traum des Franz Biberkopf von Alfred Döblin - Ein Epilog / My Dream of the Dream of Franz Biberkopf by Alfred Döblin, An Epilogue"
Channel 4; Thursday 12th September 1985
In a fantasy sequence, Franz walks along a street of the dead with two angels. He finds Mieze, but she disappears from his arms. Reinhold is in prison for the crimes committed by a man whose identity he has acquired. He is anguished that his cellmate and lover is being released. Franz is taken to an asylum. Much of the rest of the episode takes place in his imagination. Franz’s being run over by the car is re-enacted with different characters taking on the roles of victim and driver. In a striking sequence, Franz and Mieze are treated like animals being slaughtered in an abattoir. On a nativity set Franz is raised on a cross as the other characters watch. An atom bomb goes off in the background and the angels clear the dead. The surreal imagery ceases suddenly and Franz is at Reinhold’s trial testifying to his good character. Reinhold is given ten years for manslaughter. Eva tells Franz she has lost the baby. The film concludes with Franz as an assistant gatekeeper at a factory. He is alert to his job but not to what is going on in the world as war is on the horizon.
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