The Merchant of Four Seasons Screen 10 articles

The Merchant of Four Seasons

1971

The Merchant of Four Seasons Poster
  • Formally stiff and technically wobbly, The Merchant Of Four Seasons marked Fassbinder’s emergence as a punk classicist and a director of blunt gestures... Movies by young directors are expected to be jazzy, authentic, and on-trend, and The Merchant Of Four Seasons is none of those things. Like the mature work that would follow, it shuttles between serious melodrama and black comedy without ever stopping over in camp.

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    Artforum: Manny Farber + Patricia Patterson
    November 1972 | Venice | Farber on Film (pp. 707-708)

    After five days at the Venice Film Festival, [The Merchant of Four Seasons] is the single antidote to thoughts of suicide in the Grand Canal... The clear individualizing and silhouetting of each character are emblematic of Fassbinder's tough decision-making about style. His intense, shadowless image is disarming: though the story is about a fruit pushcart and its discontented couple, there are no shadows, dirt, or squalidness anywhere.

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    The Village Voice: Andrew Sarris
    November 22, 1973 | The Village Voice Film Guide (pp. 169-171)

    Fassbinder deftly balances style with humanity in such a way that The Merchant of Four Seasons manages to break the heart without betraying the mind. Fassbinder's achievement is aided in no small part by the extraordinary presences and performances of Hans Hirschmüller as the hapless victim, Hanna Schygulla as his beautiful and dilettantishly compassionate sister, and Irm Hermann as his sensually ungainly wife.

  • Rainer Werner Fassbinder has a genius for detailing the pain of suppressed emotional states, and even at its most achingly deliberate, his style in dealing with the petit bourgeois mentality is a source of endless fascination.

  • Using relative distance and exaggerated perspective, Rainer Werner Fassbinder conveys the gradual demoralization of the human soul... The Merchant of Four Seasons is a subtle, unsentimental, yet deeply moving portrait of the crushing of the spirit - the tragic failure, not of a man, but of his cruel, alienating environment.

  • By encouraging emotional identification with his characters on the one hand and then by disrupting that identification through various distance-creating mechanisms, Fassbinder is doing no less than showing us how to experience art. We are suspended in the work, held aloft by two opposing forces – emotional and intellectual – which we keep in delicate balance. In Fassbinder’s worldview, this is how feeling and thought must combine, ultimately producing action, the highest purpose of art.

  • If not quite as solid as Fox and His Friends, The Merchant of Four Seasons is every bit as critical of its lecherous, hypocritical German society as it is with the victims who seemingly perpetuate their own damnation.

  • An unforgettable cantata, raspy and plangent, every composition attuned to circles of torment and frustration. It’s merciless, but, as Hirschmüller’s miserable-comforter sister (Hanna Schygulla) puts it, Fassbinder is "not aggressive, just frank."

  • This film has a freeness, a casualness, a matter-of-factness, that's unusual for Fassbinder, despite the prodigiousness and the brilliance of the filmography to follow. Fassbinder finds in this film's estranged fruit man an expression of his own torment—the selling of fruit having in common with filmmaking a yearning to reach out to the populace and be momentarily heard.

  • Shot mostly in muted, pastel colors, with brief flashes of sumptuous red and shimmering gray, depending on the expressive tenor of a given scene, Merchant’s grim tale has a mysterious power to move the viewer almost to tears, enlisting compassion for its hero but avoiding bathos.

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