Rio das Mortes (West Germany, 1971):

The mundane oppression of German life, which drove the stumplike protagonists of Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? and The Merchant of Four Seasons into suicide, is fended off by the two proletarian heroes (Michael König and Günther Kaufmann) here through absurd fantasy -- they dream of escaping into the Peruvian jungles to seek out some unlikely buried treasure, and spend most of the running time half-assedly trying to drum up funds, muddling from doomed scheme to doomed scheme. The occasional Antitheatre set piece notwithstanding (five gals smoking and walking in a circle in front of a huge blackboard, where a looming dick is chalked in, tagged "USSA"), this mostly forgotten entry of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's early futzing-around period feels unaccountably close to an American road-trip comedy, though, as befits the director's stark inquiry into the stunted alienation of a generation, the characters remain for the most part locked in political stasis. In between scrambling for money, there's pub jitterbugging to "Jailhouse Rock," reading aloud from an entry on Lana Turner, and some authentic bohemian décor circa 1970, wicker chairs, Buster Keaton posters and all. It is illustrative of the characters' apathy that their expected amorous triangle with König's bored bride (Hanna Schygulla) never solidifies, though she does display a far more lucid grasp on life than the two, who, to quote from Kaufmann's monologue about his days in the Navy, "take the line of least resistance." And yet, in the end it is Schygulla who's left behind, lost in her own lipsticky melodrama while the fellas take off together for literally greener pastures -- even this early, Fassbinder understood just how much more elusive escape is for a woman. With Katrin Schaake, Harry Baer, and Ulli Lommel.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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