Criterion Prediction #118: Eight Hours Are Not a Day, by Alexander Miller
Title: Eight Hours Are Not a Day
Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Cast: Gottfried John, Hanna Schygulla, Luise Ullrich, Irm Hermann, Werner Finck
Synopsis: A five episode mini-series commissioned by the Westdeutscher Rundfunk channel chronicles the life of Jochen Kruger, his extended family, and his burgeoning relationship with his new girlfriend Marion as well as the mechanics of his job as a factory worker. It’s a domestically themed seriocomic exploration of the cultural and economic tenor of modern life in Germany through the various relationships of a quirky working-class family.
Critique: Being a Fassbinder fan is a rewarding process in that his prolific legacy continues to bear fruit despite his being dead for decades. And if you’re a completionist (as is yours truly), it’s a treat to find a lost title from a director. But with Fassbinder, you get more than a movie. This is a five feature-length episode mini-series that clocks in at nearly eight hours.
Eight Hours Are Not a Day is a proletariat soap opera in the most literal sense; there’s a sweetness to the socioeconomic implications that are neither overtly political nor heavy-handed as well as a comic tone to the structure of the varied characters that inhabit the screen in this richly detailed chronicle of the Kruger family. Fassbinder’s handling of the material might be his lightest, most compassionate work that’s buttressed by his frequently recurring team of stock players and technical collaborators.
So, what are the dramatic expectations of a light-hearted series about a family?
Conflicts arise in the commonalities of daily life and range on a subtle scale of urgency; Jochen, the primary focus (played by Fassbinder regular Gottfried John) organizes his co-workers to realize a self-managed agenda to increase productivity despite receiving heat from upper management. His prewar generation grandmother (oft referred to as “Oma,” the literal German translation of Grandma) and her boyfriend Gregor shop for apartments. But, when they’re discouraged by high rental prices they decide to open a daycare/kindergarten when they realize the neighborhood children are relegated to playing in the street; that is without any official permission. Once bureaucratic intervention closes down Oma’s unsanctioned kindergarten, she stages a demonstration to reopen its doors. But the crux of each episode lies not in the conflict but in the collective sense of the characters and the way Fassbinder corrals an affirmative, unenforced determination in resolution.
There are undertones of politics but Eight Hours Are Not a Day doesn’t waver with ideologies or the oft-utilized (and ideologically invalid) maverick heroism of a single character “rising to the occasion.” There’s an emphasis on communal strength; although the stories have a whiff of realist escapism, they are still resonant.
Stylistically the director’s provocative artifice isn’t abandoned but flowered with Sirkian intonations and an unexpected degree of warmth and humanism. Fassbinder’s visual panache is dialed down but not compromised and the effect is more sustained. The result is one of the director’s best ventures.
Why It Belongs in the Collection: Arrow Media has recently released the long-anticipated Eight Hours Are Not a Day as a region 2 Blu-ray and, for a 45-year-old series shot for television, it looks immaculate. And it’s fair to say that Arrow/Masters of Cinema are the UK’s equivalent to The Criterion Collection with enough overlap it would be merely redundant to touch on that now. So, when a film comes out through Arrow or MOC it can more often than not be treated as a preamble for a Criterion release as well; not to mention Fassbinder’s massive presence, in the collection with a bounty of 14 films in the catalog.
And the most obvious reason for the inclusion of Eight Hours Are Not a Day is that it’s an achievement that’s been off the radar for years. Fassbinder fans will rejoice and newcomers will be treated to a new side of the late wunderkind director. As of now, Eight Hours Are Not a Day is available on Blu-ray thanks to Arrow Video. The restoration is beautiful but it is not immediately accessible in North America.