Retrospective highlights Fassbinder’s world

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Retrospective highlights Fassbinder’s world

Seoul Art Cinema is about to go Hollywood.
As a home for small underground films, both domestic and international, since May 2002, Seoul Art Cinema was the place to go for quality yet hard-to-find movies. Located on the corner of an alley in Anguk-dong, this non-profit, government-funded theater was a center for cinephiles, holding a number of retrospectives and small film festivals.
But the theater will move to a new venue in June. Since its lessor, the Art Sonje Center, notified the theater last year that the building was scheduled for remodeling, Seoul Art Cinema remained adrift for months trying to find the right place in which to relocate. Last week, theater staff members made a long-awaited announcement that they had found a new home at a theater with a seemingly not-so-appropriate name ― the Hollywood Cinema ― near Insa-dong, central Seoul.
The cinema’s patrons may be sad to leave Anguk-dong, which was free of the hustle and bustle of the nearby touristy Insa-dong, for the theater named Hollywood, adjacent to the tourist mecca. But, regardless of the arguments about the suitability of the location, the Hollywood Cinema is having a rebirth, creating an art film venue. One of its three screens will be for the exclusive use of Seoul Art Cinema.
Cinephiles can still enjoy the theater’s last program of the Anguk-dong era, a retrospective of the German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1945-1982). Starting today and running through March 31, the retrospective presents 24 films, spanning the career of the director dubbed the “heart” of the New German Cinema movement.
In association with the Goethe Institute Seoul, the expatriate-friendly cinema will screen each film with English as well as Korean subtitles. Two special screenings of the director’s tour de force, “Berlin Alexanderplatz,” a group of TV movies based on a novel, will have English subtitles only.
From the director’s debut with “Love Is Colder Than Death” (1969), the retrospective, the biggest of its kind ever held in Korea for the director, also presents award-winning films like “Fear Eats the Soul” (1973).
As a cinephile himself, Mr. Fassbinder enjoyed a prolific career until he died at the young age of 37. He deliberately used the conventional genres of romance and drama, familiar to the public, for his unconventional messages.
“Fear Eats the Soul” takes the form of a romance between a 60-year-old German cleaning lady, Emmi, and Ali, a Moroccan immigrant in his mid-20s. Despite the social stigma, the two marry, as the director reveals the residual fascism and hypocritical attitudes in German society.
Mr. Fassbinder’s other main interest was the homosexual world, as shown in “Fox and His Friends” (1974), in which the director himself stars as Franz, a lower-class circus performer known as “Fox.” Falling into a consuming relationship with an affluent man, Fox soon finds himself at a tragic dead end, with the director illuminating the issues of social hierarchies related to money and power in the coldness of a capitalistic, industrial society.
Organizers also recommend “The Marriage of Maria Braun” (1978), another award-winning drama based on a stereotypical profile of a woman suffering from war as she matures as a human being. “Why Does Herr R. Run Amok?” (1969), showing how an average man is suddenly transformed into a lunatic, and “The American Soldier” (1970), a story of an American-born German who is a professional assassin, also are “must-see” films to understand Mr. Fassbinder’s cinematic world.
The last two days of the screening will be dedicated to the TV series “Berlin Alexanderplatz,” whose running time totals 15 hours. To provide a better understanding of Mr. Fassbinder’s style, two film critics ― Kim Seong-uk, who is also the Seoul Art Cinema’s programmer, and Seo Dong-jin, a leading activist in the gay movement in Korea ― will give lectures.
Mr. Seo will speak on the gender politics in Mr. Fassbinder’s films on March 17 at 7:30 p.m., while Mr. Kim will talk about how the director is still meaningful in the present day on March 19 at 3 p.m. Both lectures will take place at the theater.


by Chun Su-jin

Admission for each screening is 6,000 won ($6). Seoul Art Cinema can best be reached from Anguk station on subway line No. 3. Take exit No. 1 and walk about 10 minutes in the direction of Jeongdok Library or Art Sonje Center. For more information, call the theater at (02) 720-9782 or visit the Web site at www.cinematheque.seoul.kr.
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