But it’s in the depiction of females that Berlin Alexanderplatz takes a real stumble: they’re either money-grabbing, thirsty sluts, or helpless victims. “Once I have them, I can’t take them. I get so disgusted. The smell alone makes me sick. I can’t lose them fast enough,” Reinhold says of women. It’s lines like this that make him so despicable, sure, but there are no strong female characters to juxtapose against the chauvinism. These moments leave the audience provoked in all the worst ways.
The film is certainly not without its merits. The crisp cinematography paints Berlin in vivid neon colors. Qurbani showcases true skill with actors in scenes like the two leads having an intimate conversation in a very sensual jacuzzi, or Francis exacting vengeance on behalf of a hooker wronged (he starts the bloody tussle, then allows her to finish). The score is haunting and never abrasive, helping the atmosphere tremendously.
“Qurbani showcases true skill with actors…”
Bungué overcomes his somewhat unlikeable character’s generic traits. His obsession with being “good” but doing next-to-nothing to achieve this much-clamored sainthood becomes grating, fast. Yet the actor compensates by allowing humanity to shine through, therein letting us sympathize with, if not necessarily understand, Francis. Albrecht Schuch’s Reinhold slouches and is allergic to everything but air; he’s also vehement and dangerous, prone to unexpectedly sadistic acts. He speaks in a funny voice and is utterly reprehensible and magnetic. I’m not sure if it’s a good performance, but it owns the film.
Beautiful and atmospheric but essentially empty and pointless, Berlin Alexanderplatz hits you with the bluntness of a sledgehammer. Heavy-handed symbolism is piled with reckless abandon on top of the meandering narrative: a bull (or perhaps an ox?) haunts Francis; a character is submerged in crimson liquid. At one point, a fellow immigrant gets injured, and Francis leaves him in the middle of Alexanderplatz, to be healed and deported. After three hours of living with these characters and these images, deportation may not seem like the worst option.
"…I'm not sure if it's a good performance, but it owns the film."