The inquisitive title pops up twice, before Herr R. (Kurt Raab) first appears, not quite walking and talking with his joke-telling colleagues, then after we last see him, hanging from the office lavatory latch. In between, Rainer Werner Fassbinder keeps the focus pitilessly grainy around the blobbish main character, a draughtsman, slightly oily, slightly gross, black hair slicked down and seemingly constantly fed into the same three-piece suit; the narrative is an extended fuse leading up to the explosion at the finale, when, listlessly, he picks up a lamp and cracks the skulls of wife (Lilith Ungerer), nattering neighbor (Irm Hermann), and son. So why does Herr R. run amok? "Just little things," he blandly answers to Ungerer's automatic concern call, but such things have long become ingrained into his life's monotony, the muted (and unrecognized) anguish of a country's new materialistic middle-class. Raab hums a melody at a record store to the barely suppressed giggles of the two salesgirls, trails behind wife and mother in the snow, goes to a medical check-up, helps his son pronounce his sch's -- hunks of daily nothingness, rendered further into suffocation by Fassbinder's woozy, unbroken takes and steady flow of dead chatter. He would covertly envy Hanna Schygulla's "freedom" if his own impulses were not already atrophied; without noticing, he's become the Invisible Man, plopped from scene to scene on the edge of the frame. (When he finally takes over the shot, offering a shit-faced toast to the director's mom or reminiscing about choir days with a childhood pal, the result is more forlorn, for the pain habitually submerged suddenly gets foregrounded.) The setting is mundane Munich, although the action keeps coming back to Raab's living room, white walls, coffee table and sofa, settings for monotony, meltdown and, despite directing-credit shared with Michael Fengler, a personal Fassbinder acid-bath against spiritual squalor. With Harry Baer, Lilo Pempeit, Ingrid Craven, and Peter Moland.
--- Fernando F. Croce