December 31, 2018  (Web Review)

Eight Hours Don’t Make a Day

Criterion, 495 min., in German w/English subtitles, not rated, DVD: 3 discs, $39.99; Blu-ray: 2 discs, $49.99

Reviewer rating: 3.5/4

In 1971, Rainer Werner Fassbinder was commissioned by public broadcaster Westdeutscher Rundfunk to write and direct a series focusing on West Germany’s working class. The result was a projected run of eight feature-length episodes that was ultimately reduced to five aired in 1972-73, which left a more optimistic ending than Fassbinder had originally intended. In this serendipitously truncated form, however, Eight Hours Don’t Make a Day is a wonderfully rich and humane tapestry illustrating how domestic life can spur a drive to improve working conditions through grit and organization. The first episode introduces Cologne’s Epp clan as they celebrate the birthday of vivacious Grandma (Luise Ullrich). The plot quickly turns to factory worker Jochen (Gottfried John), who falls in love with Marion (Hanna Schygulla), a high-spirited girl he meets by accident, and much of what follows centers on their relationship and Grandma’s decision to take up with laconic widower Gregor (Werner Finck), although other family members have subplots of their own. The lightly soap opera-style material dovetails with political messaging about Jochen’s encouragement of his assembly-line comrades to join forces to effect changes in oppressive management practices, as well as Grandma’s decision to establish an unauthorized daycare center in an abandoned library—not only to help out with her rent but also to meet a need ignored by the government. The combination of family comedy-drama and mildly activist social commentary makes for a totally exhilarating ride, all the more remarkable for the constantly inventive camerawork that was Fassbinder’s trademark. Presented in a superb digital restoration by the Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation, extras include Juliane Lorenz’s 2017 documentary A Series Becomes a Family Reunion (featuring interviews with cast members), an interview with film scholar Jane Shattuc, and an illustrated booklet with an essay by scholar Moira Weigel. A fascinating collage about a middle-class family finding their way—through times happy and sad—in a society that is refashioning itself, this is highly recommended. (F. Swietek)