Criterion Prediction #23: The Third Generation, by Alexander Miller
Title: The Third Generation
Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Cast: Eddie Constantine, Hanna Schygulla, Vitus Zeplichil, Udo Kier, Margit Castentin, Harry Baer, Hark Bohm, Günther Kaufmann and Bulle Ogier
Synopsis: A small, ineffective cell of terrorists made up of bickering twenty- to thirty-somethings without any drive or political ideologies are contracted to kidnap a wealthy industrialist, only to realize (very slowly) that they have duped into a plot by the kidnappee to stir up controversy and demand for his line of security computers. The group’s ineffectiveness and pampered bourgeois backgrounds only buttress their inability to function. With the exception of Constantine the cast consists of Fassbinder’s stock company; Günther Kaufmann, Bulle Ogier, Volker Spengler, Udo Kier, Harry Baer, Harry Schygulla and Margit Castentin are a delight. Equal parts political thriller and black comedy, The Third Generation plays off like The Baader Meinhof Complex meets Fargo.
Critique: Rainer Werner Fassbinder has a large filmography, and his work explores a variety of genres and themes, but Fassbinder consistently shows concern for the underdogs of society. Recurring issues such as immigration, racism, ageism, and the disaffection of the German people in the postwar years were always at the forefront of his movies. The Third Generation is a standout title from Fassbinder with a sharp tone for political irreverence and comedy. That’s not to say that The Third Generation is a just a farcical romp, there’s a palatable level of action, even if it comes in the form of gun-toting terrorists wearing clown makeup. Fassbinder had an enigmatic career; by 1979, he’d helmed 30 features. In fifteen years Fassbinder directed over forty full-length films – many of which he wrote and starred in – never mind his theater work and other acting projects of which there were many. The Third Generation proved to be more of a personal project that Fassbinder pursued after the international success of The Marriage of Maria Braun. While it was difficult for him to find backers for the project, the final product looks terrific, and might be one of his best-looking titles on par with his massive Berlin Alexanderplatz and the colorful BRD Trilogy. His trademark visual confections of flickering neon lights and carefully-staged scenes are present. The deliberate presence of contemporary technology is visible as well. Television screens, computers, telephones, sterile office spaces, and vapid grey color schemes show us a nation eager to evolve into a future that’s not so bright while the postwar atmosphere still lingers. This is the work of a masterful director who is at the peak of his powers, exploring some new territory with his own stylistic panache.
Why it Belongs in the Collection? One thing I love about the Criterion Collection is their capital of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s work, with over a dozen of the director’s features in their catalogue. Still, they’ve only scratched the surface of his massive filmography. The Third Generation might be one of his best, and that accommodation alone should disqualify this title for a Criterion release. The Third Generation would expand on one of the most fascinating directors featured in the collection. What World on a Wire is to science fiction, and Ali: Fear Eats the Soul is to romance, The Third Generation could be to the political thriller genre. Tango Entertainment’s 2004 DVD release is fine, but this is more of a resulting concession because this is the only version of the movie on the market. So it’s good simply because it exists. However, this film deserves more, and it fits in with the Criterion cannon perfectly.