Rainer Werner Fassbinder had 12 features under his belt when he finally found success at home and earned international acclaim for The Merchant of Four Seasons. Hans Hirschmüller stars as Hans, who returns from a stint in the French Foreign Legion with high hopes and grand plans for the "economic miracle" of 1950s Germany. Fired from the police force for dallying with a hooker, he sets himself up as a street peddler selling fruits and vegetables from a pushcart, much to the horror of his bourgeois family and his socially conscious lover, who leaves him in disgust. Settling for a loveless marriage with a manipulative wife (Irm Hermann), Hans sinks into depression and ill health and finally falls silent as his new partner quietly usurps his place. It's a chilly but compelling portrait of a mercenary, often unfeeling family desperate to grab a piece of the economic boom, and Fassbinder invests it with a mix of street realism, melodrama, black comedy, and theatrical flourish. At the center is Hans, a prisoner of an unhappy life except for the moments he takes his cart to the streets and calls out his wares like a character in some working-class opera---until even that is denied him and he embarks on a special, utterly Fassbinderian escape. It's an unforgettable climax to one of Fassbinder's best films. Hanna Schygulla, Kurt Raab, and Ingrid Caven are among Fassbinder's familiar stock company of costars, and Fassbinder briefly appears in a small role. --Sean Axmaker
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