Review: Der Amerikanische Soldat (The American Soldier, 1970)


Let the oddness begin!

Written By: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Directed By: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Sometimes when I watch a movie with the intention of reviewing it I end up with a copious amount of notes. Other times I end up with very little notes, then there is Der Amerikanische Soldat, a movie where I only jotted down two tiny notes. It’s not that Der Amerikanische Soldat didn’t cause me to think, it’s exactly that reason that I didn’t take down many notes. It has been a long time since I have seen a movie as odd and yet as appealing as Der Amerikanische Soldat and it left me at a loss as to what needed to be jotted down on my notepad.

Der Amerikanische Soldat doesn’t really have anything to say, yet it says a lot. There isn’t a true cohesive story, there isn’t a semblance of a solid story for that matter. Der Amerikanische Soldat is a series of moments that add up to ideas being expressed by the director. The gangster element is always present, that is the root idea. Fassbinder uses the gangster motif to present a bevy of odd scenes and amalgamations of movie themes. In one moment he is presenting the idea that Ricky may be homosexual, then in the next Ricky appears to take in a woman just for the sake of washing the homosexuality off of himself. Later, Ricky visits his mother and not only do you get the vibe of incest from his awkward first brush up with his mother, but his brother out and out screams incest and homosexuality. This is later cemented by the rolling around on the floor slow motion ending shared by the two brothers, although Ricky isn’t exactly in any position to share whatever reasons his brother may have for rolling around with him.

I was sidetracked again, I do that, hopefully my few readers have learned to accept it. What I am trying to expound on is how Der Amerikanische Soldat is a series of ideas tossed at the screen. The possible homosexuality is accompanied by the cavalier nature that men treat women in Der Amerikanische Soldat. They appear to be powerless and at the mercy of everyone around them. It’s as if Fassbinder decided that he wanted to see what would work and what wouldn’t. This creates an interesting movie, I couldn’t help but be interested by what I was seeing. However, the lack of a true narrative combined with the absence of the viewer associating with the characters creates a distance in what you are seeing. I was interested by what was happening on my screen, but it was more of a scientific type of interest. I didn’t actually care about what was happening, I was interested to see where the story would go but at the same time I didn’t really care where it went. I hope that makes sense, but that’s the best way I can think of to describe both my amusement with Der Amerikanische Soldat as well as my slight apathy towards Der Amerikanische Soldat.

I wouldn’t classify Der Amerikanische Soldat as a great movie, although I do think it has a great splashed out black and white look, but it is an interesting movie to experience. This is only my second bout with Fassbinder, but I know I want to see more because Der Amerikanische Soldat was certainly interesting to the point where I want to see more by the director. Der Amerikanische Soldat may be a good film to start your viewing of Fassbinder with, or it may not be, I don’t really know. What I do know is that Der Amerikanische Soldat was interesting to watch, and sometimes that is more than enough to satisfy me.





4 responses to “Review: Der Amerikanische Soldat (The American Soldier, 1970)

  1. Yes, I agree with everything you say, but the distancing effect can make the 77 mins seem long; for me, this comes off as an interesting experiment, and it does seem to be very gay despite having only one overtly gay character. Having seen most of Fassbinder’s ouevre in the 70s and 80s in the cinema, when every release that wasn’t banned in this country (the pornographic images on the playing cards would have led to cuts in the UK) was a major cinematic event, I can say this is minor Fassbinder, especially compared to something like Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, made only four years later. Fassbinder died young, and this is among his earliest work. I see it as a young man’s movie, and an hommage to film noir where misogyny and homo-eroticism plays such a large part in much of ‘the tradition’; noir fans will enjoy the nods to Asphalt Jungle, Gilda, Touch of Evil, and even Alphaville, among many others.

  2. This is a film I’d like to revisit now that I’ve seen more of Fassbinder’s work and have become a big fan. I have a feeling that there are many elements within the film that would have a deeper impact on me at this point.

  3. Michael O'Farrell

    Your comment on this film mirrors my feelings exactly. And i assume by this time you’ve seen some of Fassbinder’s later, more mature works. There is a ‘soliloquy’ by one of the characters that describes the plot of a later work of the director : ‘Ali: Fear Eats The Soul’, filmed not long after ‘Soldier’ and a quantum leap in craftsmanship compared to this early endeavor. “Fox and His Friends’ is another fascinating film, on a par with “Ali’ in terms of craft and greater maturity in storytelling. Fassbinder definitely fits the mold of the ‘tortured, troubled genius’ but a cinematic genius he was, a man with prodigious gifts. I enjoyed reading your intelligent, well written review!

  4. Thanks for the kind words. 🙂 The two moves you mention I have not seen yet, but I have since seen a lot of Fassbinder. I’m up to fifteen or sixteen of his films now, with plenty more to go, and he remains just as fascinating of a director now as he was when I watched this.

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