The Niklashausen Journey

1970, Movie, NR, 86 mins

Review

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hough this 1970s, made-for-German-TV relic will strike some viewers as an arcane, counter-culture home movie, Fassbinder fans will be spellbound. A passion play commemorating 15th-century shepherd Hans Rohm's "Niklashausen pilgrimage," during which went from town to town claiming that the Blessed Virgin Mary had advised him to foment a holy war against the decadent church and upper classes, is an annual event in Germany. In 1970, iconoclastic director Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Michael Fengler staged a new version that emphasized the story's political underpinnings. Viewers are whisked behind the scenes to witness Fassbinder's audition and rehearsal process. Fassbinder, in modern dress, seems a cool observer of his costumed cast members — almost like a teacher instructing pupils. As Fassbinder's distorted re-creation unfolds, Bohm and his disciples rail against the bourgeoisie, politicians and even the traditional Church. Fassbinder uses Bohm's religious proselytizing as a brickbat against societal conformity and repression. Ultimately, the bare bones of the centuries-old pageant rattle against the pre-conceived notions of the actors, who question its relevance to their era. For Fassbinder, Bohm's fervor reflects his own generation's contempt for the status quo, and one of the theater piece's subplots condemns the aristocracy for punishing Bohm as a heretic. Fassbinder pointedly expands the historic pilgrimage to embrace his concerns about the government's erosion of individual rights. However, as past and present clash, Fassbinder and his cast come to the realization that the more things change, the more they remain the same; it may take out-and-out revolution to finish what Bohm started. Invaluable for its depiction of Fassbinder's working methods, this chronicle of his performance-art exercise in political outrage shows Fassbinder's genius in gestation. Twisting a German tradition to his own ends, Fassbinder restyles Bohm's martyrdom as a provocateur's call to arms. leave a comment --Robert Pardi

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