Is Hans Epp, the the hero of Fassbinder’s film, a kind of a “saint” or just psychologically traumatized (by his mother and later by other people and circumstances) “neurotic” with psychotic complications? He tries not to be nasty with other people – for example, he is not competing with others for a higher place in the social hierarchy or even for a job, while competition is accepted and encouraged in democratic societies not only as a necessity but as a noble and healthy behavior. When he was just starting his working career he wanted to become a mechanic, but his mother disapproved the “misery” of his interests, and then as a sign of protest he enlisted in Foreign Legion and almost was killed. Many people will say that Hans is too sensitive. The majority of people pick up profession by the necessity and calculation, not by “romantic” choice, and if they really dream about this or that occupation – it is because it is well paying and promises prosperous life. People basically agree with the social dictates of this kind – they, for example, from early school age have in mind a certain future profession which will be generously rewarding, or they already learned to love what they know will guarantee a decent income and social status. But Hans was resisting this innocent conformism – he implied that he is good enough to have a modest job, although his mother considered him the shame of the family, while the father of woman he loved since his youth called him something like a “lazy ass” and made his daughter refuse his marriage proposal. Hans’ stubbornness is very close to naiveté, to being too childlike. How is it possible to be proud for being poor, for being on the bottom? He is too much an idealist in practical life, and this means that he can be an exemplary victim in social survival and in personal relationships.

Hans, as if, eliminates himself from realistic assessment of human life. But can he, in the depth of his personality be a dangerous heretics positioned against the foundation of our civilization that needs in people some degree of predatoriness and competitive muscles as a necessity for its economic growth and political energy? Hans, as if, was trying to stay at the bottom. But to exclude himself from the rivalry for social position and and personal happiness is a very risky thing to do – you can be easily abused by somebody’s self-assertion. Here is Hans’ destiny. The film analyses how concrete circumstances, other people and his general impressions from human life – step by step led Hans to suicide.

“The Merchant…” it seems, can be related to another unique film about suicide, which does not blame the “victim” and rather sees the reason for suicide in the established ways of human societal life and conventional human relations. May be, Fassbinder was even inspired by Louis Malle’s “Fire Within” (1963). The important difference is that Alain Leroy is a well read intellectual while Hans Epp is from a pretentious but a low middle class background. May be, it’s possible to say that “The Merchant of Four Seasons” is positioned in relation to “Fire Within” as Pasolini’s “Accatone” (1961) to the number of Antonioni’s films about life of the wealthy elite. Like Pasolini depicts heroes of Roman underclass as not less intelligent than Antonioni rich Milanese, Fassbinder’s Hans can be even more emotionally sensitive than many humanistically educated and intellectually trained detached observers of life.

Fassbinder’s film is constructed in an emotionally ascetic manner, but this very asceticism is poetic, almost melodious. Actions and scenes follow one another as painful arguments. Montage makes the film a semantic music which involves the audiences more and more than closer we are to the end. It is a teary thinking in visual images, not just visual representation of certain ideas and problems.

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Hans’ mother always looked at him from the side, like we see in this shot, never directly.

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In Hans‘ archetypal memory he always was following his mother trying to get her attention, but she never turned to him. It is, as if,he was, somehow, reminding her of a past about which she didn’t want to be reminded.

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Irmgard (Hans’ wife) is worried why Hans is not home yet, and calls various pubs to find where he is.

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Hans’ last visit to his grosse liebe (big love) wasn’t intended to be sad, but he couldn’t concentrate on love. He was just sitting in her bedroom, as if in a stupor. We see her suffering after he left without making love. Hans’ silence was a way to say goodbye. She got it.

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Hans has come home after late night boozing – drunk and noisy but his posture as registered in this shot is rather timid, more – begging, more – appealing for Irmgard’s compassion.

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Hans, Irmgard and Renate – the family meant (by the husband and wife’s unconscious intentionality) to be sublime (as it’s badly depicted by the religious painting in a background), but it is shattered amidst the fallen world by human emotional immaturity.

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In the presence of Hans his mother (supported by the alcohol ghosts magically neutralizing for her Hans’ imperfections) and his elder sister and her husband (Kurt Raab) always team together.

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Suffering (while Hans was hospitalized recovering after heart attack) and being afraid for his life and for her own’s “female destiny”, Irmgard is passing by the clothing store and looking at men in the moving cars.

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Each time when Hans‘ sister Anna (the family’s “intellectual”) felt an impulse to, somehow, help Hans, something happened that prevented it, interrupted her desire – either her chronic busyness, or too many ideas clushing in her head, or, like we see here, a small accident making her fall down.

Posted on Feb 21, 2015 –   Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s “Merchant of Four Seasons” (1971) – When A Child Is Too Severely (Ontologically Negatively) Judged By Mother, And Later By The Society by Acting-Out Politics