Anticipating “Fassbinder: Tireless Provocateur” at the Trylon, I revisited his terrific 1976 I Only Want You to Love Me.
The film follows Peter, a young man from the forests of Bavaria. His parents are innkeepers, and as the film starts, he’s building them a new house, working alone over weekends. Following a brief scene of flirtation with a girl (Erika) that works for the pharmacy, they are quickly married, and although Peter makes the newly built house a present to his parents, they decide there is no room in it for the young couple. They are scarily distant and self-serving. And so Peter moves to Munich. Where he finds a paycheck, and housing with a large construction firm, (the former only barely covering the latter.)
Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Producer: Peter Märthesheimer
Writers: Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Klause Antes Christiane Erhardt, Christian Hohoff
Cinematographer: Michael Ballhaus
Editor: Liesgret Schmitt-Klink
Music: Peer Raben
Cast: Vitus Zeplichal, Elke Aberle, Alexander Allerson, Erni Mangold, Johanna Hofer, Wolfgang Hess
Country: West Germany
Premiere: March 23, 1976 – German Television
US Theatrical Release: April 15, 1994
US Distributor: Olive Films
Fassbinder creates suspense by making his characters emotionally vulnerable. We watch in horror as the young couple, struggling to live off their wages, encounters unexpected expenses. There’s this palpable sense of doom for these country mice, especially as Peter declares, “I want you to have everything that everyone else has.” He works overtime and becomes dependent on the overtime, and in acts of seeming self-destruction splurges on things like gold bracelets and “automated sewing machines,” for Erika.
If you can stand to watch these very young people run through the wringer, you come out with a certain sense of appreciation for Fassbinder’s frankness. Like Steve Buscemi says in Trees Lounge, “it’s rough all over.” (He uses more colorful language.) Fassbinder hones in all the small obstacles towards intimacy in modern/contemporary society. Depictions of sex are earnest and tender. And even as you watch Peter increasingly degraded by his circumstances, you begin to feel a sense of relief. Unlike some recent pictures (Frances Ha, Tiny Furniture), which, although otherwise great, never dispel the myth that “if these young kids just put their hands to the plow, they’d make it after all,” I Only Want You to Love Me dismisses this notion outright. Just having a picture tell if to you straight becomes a pleasure in itself; all told, this is one of Fassbinder’s best.