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The Merchant of Four Seasons – The Criterion Collection #758 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

May 30, 2015 by  



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“The Merchant of Four Seasons” is a fascinating Werner Fassbinder film about a man who feels he has lost everything, including himself.  A wonderful Fassbinder film that I recommend!

Image courtesy of © 2015 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: The Merchant of Four Seasons – The Criterion Collection #758

YEAR OF FILM: 1971

DURATION: 88 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:37:1 aspect ratio, German Monaural LPCM 1.0, Subtitles: English SDH

COMPANY: Janus Films/THE CRITERION COLLECTION

RELEASE DATE: May 26, 2015


Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Written by Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Cinematography by Dietrich Lohmann

Edited by Thea Eymesz

Production Design by Kurt Raab

Costume Design by Kurt Raab, Uta Wilhelm


Starring:

Hans Hirschmuller as Hans Epp

Irm Hermann as Irmgard Epp

Hanna Schygulla as Anna Epp, Hans’ Sister

Andrea Schober as Renate Eppl Hans’ Daughter

Gusti Kreissi as Mother Epp

Klaus Lowitsch as Harry Radek

Karl Scheydt as Anzell

Ingrid Caven as The Merchan’s Great Love

Kurt Raab as Kurt, Heide’s Husband

Heide Simon as Heide, Hans’ Second Sister


 New German Cinema icon Rainer Werner Fassbinder (World on a Wire) kicked off a new phase of his young career when he made the startling The Merchant of Four Seasons. In this despairing yet mordantly funny film, Fassbinder charts the decline of a self-destructive former policeman and war veteran struggling to make ends meet for his family by working as a fruit vendor. Fassbinder had skyrocketed to renown on the acclaim of a series of trenchant, quickly made early films, but for this one he took more time and forged a new style—featuring a more complexly woven script and narrative structure and more sophisticated use of the camera, and influenced by the work of his recently discovered idol, Douglas Sirk. The result is a meticulously made, unforgiving social satire.

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In 1972, filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder (“The Marriage of Maria Braun”, “The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant”, “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul”) debuted his film “The Merchant of Four Seasons”.

The film stars Hans Hirschmuller (“Alice in the Cities”, “Katzelmacher”, “Love is Colder Than Death”), Irm Hermann (“Ali: Fear Eats the Soul”, “The Downfall of Berlin: Anonyma”, “Pappa ante Portas”), Hanna Schygulla (“The Marriage of Maria Braun”, “Dead Again”, “The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant”), Andrea Schober (“Chinese Roulette”, “Effi Briest”), Gusti Kreissl (“Ali: Fear Eats the Soul”, “Daniel”) and Klaus Lowitsch (“The Marriage of Maria Braun”, “World on a Wire”).

“The Merchant of Four Seasons” is considered Fassbinder’s turning point of creating commercial films and his entry into the creating international cinema.  The film is also considered one of Fassbinder’s masterpiece among his film oeuvre.

And now “The Merchant of Four Seasons” will be released on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of the Criterion Collection.

“The Merchant of Four Seasons” begins with Hans Epp returning home to his mother after serving a few years in the French Foreign Legion.  But to his surprise, his mother is not happy to see him and is upset that he brought his friend to fight in the war.  While Hans survived, his friend had died and she makes the comment, “The good die young, and people like you come back”.

The film now features Hans in the near future as a fruit stand salesmen, which he works alongside his wife Irmgard (portrayed by Irm Hermann).

Irmgard is often jealous of Hans, as he is often selling fruit in an area where a woman (portrayed by Ingrid Caven) lives.  She often accuses him of sleeping with the woman and he is so upset that he is driven to go to the bars and drink himself drunk.

While drunk, he talks about how he lived a life as a police officer, until one day, while interviewing a prostitute, she tries to get off by giving him oral sex.  Unfortunately, for Hans, he was caught by his superior officer and is fired from the force.  When Irmgard tries to come get him, he is upset that he throws a chair at her.

When he comes home in a drunken stupor, Irmgard calls him a pig and in front of their young daughter, Renate (portrayed by Andrea Schober), he beats her and falls asleep.

While asleep, Irmgard and her daughter leave him and finds support with Hans family.  We then see how much the family despises him.

His mother prefers the more obedient daughter Heidi (portrayed by Heide Simone) and tolerates her blunt and outspoken daughter Anna (portrayed by Hanna Schygulla). Heidi and her husband hear from Irmgard of what Hans did to her and tell her that he has been good for nothing.

We learn from the past that Hans wanted to become a mechanic, but his mother forbid him and wanted him to keep studying.  But despite all family members talking bad about Hans, Anna tells the family that they always despised him and never gave him a chance.

When Hans arrives and tries to bring Irmgard home, Irmgard fears for her life and the family tries to protect him from her.  But when she files for divorce in front of him, he has a heart attack.

The doctor tells Irmgard that Hans can neither work or drink ever again.

How will life be for Hans and Irmgard after his heart attack?


VIDEO:

“The Merchant of Four Seasons – The Criterion Collection #758” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:37:1 aspect ratio). The film looks fantastic for its age.  There is a good amount of grain, skintones look natural and I saw no sign of softness, discoloration or excessive DNR.

According to the Criterion Collection, “Produced by the Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation, this new digital transfer was created in 4K resolution on an ARRISCAN film scanner from the original camera negative at ARRI Film & TV Services in Munich, where the film was restored.”

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

As for audio, “The Merchant of Four Seasons – The Criterion Collection #758” is presented in German LPCM 1.0 monaural. Dialogue is clear with no sign of hiss or crackle.

According to the Criterion Collection, “The original monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the 17.5mm magnetic track. Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum, and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD, AudioCube’s integrated workstation, and iZotope RX4.”

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“The Merchant of Four Seasons – The Criterion Collection #758″ comes with the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary – Audio commentary by Wim Wenders, recorded in 2002.
  • Irm Hermann – (9:10) Interview with actress Irm Hermann, recorded in Feb. 2015.
  • Hans Hirschmuller – (13:25) Interview with actor Irm Hermann, recorded in Feb. 2015.
  • Eric Rentschler – (11:47) Interview with Eric Rentschler, film historian and the Arthur Kingsley Porter, professor of Germanic Languages and Literature at Harvard University, recorded in Feb. 2015.

EXTRAS:

“The Merchant of Four Seasons – The Criterion Collection #758” comes with a 6-page foldout insert with the essay “Downward Mobility in Munich” by Thomas Elsaesser, professor emeritus in the Department of Media and Culture at the University of Amsterdam.


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On the outside, the premise of “The Merchant of Four Seasons” can be seen as a film about a man who finds no reason to live.

He loved a woman that he can’t be with because he works selling fruit, he’s married to a woman that he doesn’t really love, he tries to have a family life which he doesn’t feel part of, his own personal family except one of his sisters look down on him and so, all he has is alcohol.  Until a heart attack prevents him from ever working or drinking again.

Which essentially leaves this depressed man with nothing.

Of course, the summary of this film would seem too simple but when you watch the film, its how the actions occur and the flashbacks of what takes place in the life of Hans and his wife Irmgard, that you see the dysfunctional but also the challenging life that Hans Epp has lived.

And when it comes to films, these are characters that Fassbinder are attracted to.  People who don’t have the happiest of lives and also his use of delayed reactions in order to show emotion.  It’s his way, his style that goes against traditional Hollywood norm, and appalling that people despise Hans because he sells fruit, may seem quite a bit farfetched, but that is the point of a Fassbinder films, going against the norm and yet showcasing alienating environments about a man feeling he is nothing but a failure.

But the acting for the film is wonderful as Hans Hirschmuller does a great job at playing the dejected, depressed, drunk Hans Hirschmuller and Irm Hermann showcases another wonderful performance as Han’s wife.  Also, a solid performance from Hanna Schygulla as the outspoken member of the Epp family.

As for the Criterion Collection Blu-ray release, “The Merchant of Four Seasons” looks fantastic for its age.  Colors are well-represented, grain is intact and no discoloration, softness or any excessive DNR.  Picture quality is very good and its monaural soundtrack is clear, with no hiss or crackle.  You also get a few special features including interviews with actor Hans Hirschmuller and actress Irm Hermann.

Overall, “The Merchant of Four Seasons” is a fascinating Werner Fassbinder film about a man who feels he has lost everything, including himself.  A wonderful Fassbinder film that I recommend!






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