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The American Soldier, 1970 – ★★★★

Criterion Challenge 2022
Progress: 21/52
Prompt: Watch a film directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder

I dithered a lot on the right movie for this prompt but ultimately decided, yeah, let’s go for the lesser regarded gangster neo-noir over a Sirkian melodrama. Not that I don’t like Sirk a lot, but for a director I’m watching for the first time I’m more likely to enjoy the neo-noir.

Good call, past me! This bitterly nihilistic gangster movie is in my sweet spot. In places it lacks coherence — I think we had one too many meandering symbolic story — but the chilly black and white style carries the effort through. The closing shot is also a marvel; that display of grief unabashedly shows the passion which every single other person in the movie fights to conceal.

There were a couple of scenes where I thought the movie might be too misogynistic for me. Ricky, the titular American soldier, doesn’t treat women well. But particularly after the scene with the Romani, it became clear that it’s a general attitude towards perceived weakness. And he considered just about everyone he interacts with to be weak.

Man, that style, though. It’s noir, but it’s higher contrast noir. Fassbinder took the usual high contrast black and white and turns it up full volume, washing out details. The scenes of driving in the sunlight have almost too much glare.

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