All That Credit Allows: Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s I ONLY WANT YOU TO LOVE ME

Illustrated by Rene Cruz

An anomaly for a filmmaker of his stature, Rainer Werner Fassbinder had an extensive résumé in television. His involvement in television owes to his partnership with producer Peter Märtesheimer of the German network WDR. Together the two produced some of Fassbinder’s most ambitious projects, including the two-part sci-fi TV film World on Wire and the epic adaptation of Berlin Alexanderplatz. Meanwhile, I Only Want You to Love Me, one of the director’s made-for-TV movies, was not seen in North America until 1994.

I Only Want… chronicles the downfall of a wide-eyed young man, Peter (Vitus Zeplichal), who grew up in a small Bavarian town with his insensitive parents, whom he builds a house for with his own hands on the weekends. After getting married to the gentle Erika (Elke Aberle), the couple moves to Munich, where Peter finds a job as a bricklayer. Peter often showers Erika with gifts, even when it is out of his means, because that is how “love” is shown in his family. Erika, on the other hand, has asked for nothing but his companionship since she arrived at their under-furnished apartment. Gradually, his overspending habits lead him to slave for overtime at work in order to pay his mounting debt. Zeplichal, who is best remembered for his character’s paranoid meltdown in Fassbinder’s The Third Generation, portrays Peter as a neurotic but relatable tragic figure. Playing the role of supportive wife, Aberle’s Erika is warm and approachable, far from the stagy yet detached acting style that is common in the director’s films.

Besides two flashback sequences that recall Peter’s childhood and the young couple’s courtship, Fassbinder uses brief flash-forwards to foreshadow a serious crime that will eventually destroy Peter. A huge fan of Douglas Sirk’s classic melodramas, Fassbinder breaks heart for a living, sans all dramatic twists and swelling music of old Hollywood. “It’ll never work out”— a line that is repeated multiple times in Ali: Fear Eats the Soul— seems to be the mantra for all Fassbinder love stories. But his films are always reflective and never sentimental. They criticize the nonsensical and ruthless social constructs, yet none of the characters are mere prisoners of their circumstances. Fassbinder does not make excuses for human failings in an unforgiving world.

Thematically, I Only Want… is a continuation of Fox and His Friends, which the actor/writer/director plays a lottery-winning circus performer who was swindled by his entrepreneur boyfriend. Both films speak harshly of the capitalist society and the materialistic attitude that comes out of it. Sidestepping from the striking visual and sound design of his later films, Fassbinder draws all his attention to depict the agonizing pains of surrendering oneself to romantic desires. While Fox and His Friends is widely known for being unabashedly queer (outrageous pick-up lines and crazy double-breasted jacket with huge lapels included), perhaps the lack of controversy has contributed to I Only Want…’s fate as an overlooked film in the flamboyant filmmaker’s oeuvre.

I Only Want You To Love Me is available on DVD.

This issue is sponsored by The Glassell School of Art. Click the above picture for info on their Film Salon class.


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Filed under July 2011

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