Nov 15, 2013
It seems that with each chapter in the so-called “The Germany Trilogy,” of once-controversial female Italian auteur Liliana Cavani (The Year of the Cannibals aka I Cannibali, Ripley's Game), the films not only became less ‘Teutonic’ in theme, but even more unbearably slow and meandering to watch, with the final film, The Berlin Affair (1985) aka Interno Berlinese aka Leidenschaften being nearly impossible to sit through in a single viewing without dosing off or without my attention gravitating somewhere else. Indeed, while am I fan of the first chapter in Cavani's aberrant-garde Aryan trilogy, The Night Porter (1974) aka Il portiere di notte, and found the second film, Beyond Good and Evil (1977) aka Al di là del bene e del male, to be sometimes provocative, if not ridiculously so (indeed, Nietzsche fans should probably avoid the film), The Berlin Affair proved to be a seemingly endless exercise in pseudo-subversive plastic eroticism that features quite possibly the most mind-numbingly banal bizarre love triangle in cinema history. An Italian-West German coproduction set ostensibly during the Third Reich right before the Anschluß of Austria and starring German New Cinema lead actress Gudrun Landgrebe, who looks more Italian than German, of A Woman in Flames (1983) and Heimat: A Chronicle of Germany (1984) playing the typecast role of a bored and sexually frustrated German bourgeois housewife who finds true love in the form of a deleterious Japanese femme fatale who is much more pernicious and slutty than she looks, The Berlin Affair has the unrefined distinction of being produced by Israelis Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus for Cannon Films, thus adding to its crud cred as a sub-softcore pseudo-arthouse period piece in the spirit of Mata Hari (1985) directed by Curtis Harrington (who revealed in his autobiography that Golan and his crew forced him to add pointless sex scenes for his pseudo-biopic about the Dutch spy). A pseudo-Germanic film noir flick equipped with would-be-lurid lackluster fetishism and tedious transgressive romantic relationships, The Berlin Affair is the sort of superlatively superficial and aesthetically/thematically vacant Euro-sleaze flick that gives European art cinema a bad name and thus acts as the perfect target from Cavani's many detractors. As culturally mongrelized and historically absurd as any hack directed period piece released by Hollywood except minus the lavish wardrobes and annoying British accents, The Berlin Affair is a would-be-hot-and-heavy Guido-kraut multicultural lipstick lesbian love story that proves that Japanese women make for the most sinister and shifty of lovers, but not exactly sexy ones. Loosely based on the Jap novel Quicksand (1930) aka 卍 Manj written by Jun'ichirō Tanizaki, The Berlin Affair once and for all proves that Liliana Cavani is an unrivaled master of cinematically butchering source material, especially when it comes to the foreign non-Italian sort. In fact, Cavani even once confessed she did not even understand her lead protagonist, stating, “I really do not know how to interpret Louise’s survival. Even after reading the book I kept asking myself this very question: whether you love the person you leave behind or the one who remains with you.” Personally, by the end of The Berlin Affair, I couldn't care less about Louise and her lunatic lovers and I suspect most viewers will feel the same way after watching Cavani's spiritless softcore flick.
Opening with the seemingly poorly translated quote from German pessimist philosopher Arthur Schopenahuer, “As the philosophy of professors exclaims, there is design and unity in universal history, but in the life of every individual,” The Berlin Affair soon cuts to a certain Louise von Hollendorf (Gudrun Landgrebe) confiding with her professor (Spaghetti Western star William Berger) about the tragic bizarre love triangle she was involved with in with her hubby Heinz von Hollendorf (English actor Kevin McNally), a German senior diplomat at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and a Japanese woman named Mitsuko Matsugae (Jap singer/actress Mio Takaki), the young and lecherous daughter of a Japanese ambassador. The year is 1938 and Louise is taking a university drawing class, but instead of drawing the unclad archetypical blonde Aryan beauty used as a model in the class, she opts for drawing another student, Jap chick Mitsuko. Louise finally gets the gall to ask Mitsuko to allow her to draw her and the two inevitably make love, with the sexually aggressive German chick eventally madly falling in love with the little Jap princess. Meanwhile, Louise’s husband becomes suspicious of his wifey’s relationship with Mitsuko because, on top of being jealous in regard to his significant other’s extramarital deceit, it might ruin the German diplomat’s career were it revealed that his bourgeois beloved is a lecherous lily-licker. Meanwhile, Mitsuko betrays Louise by getting engaged to the two ladies' half-guido drawing instructor, Joseph Benno (Andrea Prodan), a man who is apparently half-gay and sexually impotent. Exceedingly emotionally wounded, Louise breaks off her aberrant affair with Mitsuko and decides to completely dedicate herself to her cuckolded husband, even revealing her brief lesbo relationship with him. Meanwhile, Heinz’s high-ranking Gestapo agent cousin Wolf von Hollendorf (Hanns Zischler) forces Louise and Heinz both to be involved in a plot to the ruin the career of a gay German general named Werner von Heiden (Massimo Girottias) as homosexuality is illegal in Deutschland under Article 175 of the Penal Code, which proves to be successful. Faking being pregnant and ill, Mitsuko manages to convince Louise to rekindle their romantic relationship, which the Jap’s hubby-to-be Benno allows, but he ultimately makes the mistake of attempting to blackmail Heinz, which ultimately gets him deported back to Guidoland. Of course, Heinz naturally becomes enraged after learning his wife is getting wanton with a cracked and wacked carpet-munching Jap chick, but he also develops a decadent taste for lily yellow lesbo flesh, thus siring a ménage à trios between the kraut married couple and the Asian goddess. Although both parties become increasingly jealous of one another, Mitsuko ultimately holds the most power, ultimately sadistically playing the wife and husband against each other. After Benno publishes an account abroad about the curious miscegenation-based case of Mitsuko and her married kraut couple lovers, Heinz is forced to resign from his prestigious position. In the end, the three opt for poisoning one another during a ceremonial rite as opposed to leaving one another (after all, the Japs believe suicide is “not cowardice but victory”), but Louise survives and awakes, ultimately realizing she was given a sedative instead of the poisons and that she was betrayed by both of her lovers, thus allowing to live on as the writer of a sleazy race-mixing romantic novel.
In its melodramatic depiction of lesbianism and cross-racial/cross-cultural romance, The Berlin Affair is much like a Rainer Werner Fassbinder film, albeit directed by a keenly cynical lezzy Italian robot that lacks a flare for storytelling and melodrama. Indeed, The Berlin Affair is the rare sort of film that will probably only appeal to bourgeois latent lesbians, exceedingly emasculated workaholic male cuckolds who have spent one-too-many late nights working in the office, and novice xenophiles with an appetite for yellow meat, yet I doubt even members of these marginal groups will be left anymore than semi-satisfied by Cavani’s cinematic work, as a film that teases and wallows in foreplay, but never reaches any sort of real memorable climax, but merely fizzles out like an old hustler suffering from speed-induced erectile dysfunction. Essentially a flaccid film noir flick with pretensions of being a ‘socially progressive’ and conspicuously controverial arthouse period piece, The Berlin Affair might as well have been set in modern day Rome (in fact, a good portion of the film was shot Rome at Paolis Studios) as the film is even less interested in historical facts (let alone realistic architecture, wardrobes, etc. during the Third Reich era) than something directed by a vengeful Hollywood Hebrew like Spielberg. Admittedly, I wanted to like The Berlin Affair and after three or four attempts at watching the film, my opinion has yet to change. Lacking the quasi-onieric operatic etherealness, dark romanticism, and perverse poetry of The Night Porter, The Berlin Affair almost seems like a cynical parody of a Liliana Cavani flick, as if producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus got a hold of the film and butchered it so that it could be digested by the most dimwitted philistines. As for director Cavani, she stated of her objective with The Berlin Affair, “For me, a dictatorship is the most irreligious moment in history, because its leader and the hierarchies in power take the place of a divinity, while instead they are a caricature. As a consequence, they cause imagination to become scandalous and impossible, and also religion that feeds on fantasy…With their religious passion that has nothing in common with dictatorship, my characters are not anti-Nazi; however, they become “other” than Nazism, which they oppose, even if it is not overtly expressed in the film.” Keeping Cavani's quote in mind, I can respect The Berlin Affair for one thing in that it portrays bisexual race-mixers who have betrayed the Third Reich as sadists, liars, and degenerates who will screw anyone over for a bit of carnal knowledge.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 11:57 PM
Soiled Sinema 2007 - 2013. All rights reserved. Best viewed in Firefox and Chrome.