This is Fassbinder’s next-to-last film and the middle piece of the BRD Trilogy focusing on the years immediately following WWII in Germany. Veronika Voss is a washed-up film star, and Fassbinder obliges her much as Billy Wilder obliged Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, shooting in high-contrast black and white to make her feel at home, despite the fact that by 1955, when the film is set, we were well into the color era.
In Maria Braun, Fassbinder offered a model for survival, but asserted that in order for the model to work, his countrymen would have to reorient their moral compasses a bit, giving up on the kind of rigid ideals of purity that had led to disaster. In Veronika Voss, he’s in an even less merciful frame of mind. Veronika — in some ways standing in, I can’t help but think, for the German people — shows herself desperate to live in a world of illusions, completely averse to facing reality, and thus makes herself completely vulnerable to the heartless and self-interested machinations of others. You know from the get-go that it’s not going to end well for her; I’m not giving anything away.
That would have been enough, right there, for a richly metaphorical and allusive story, but Fassbinder, as usual, has layers upon layers to add. To me the most fascinating character here is the average-joe lunkhead sportswriter Robert — a sort of Oscar Madison type, it occurs to me; was Fassbinder aware of Simon’s play? — who inexplicably falls for the faded rose Veronika, throwing over his very nice girlfriend and almost losing his job in the course of trying to help and protect her.
What explains Robert’s behavior? It’s a kind of fantasy-within-a-fantasy: In order for Veronika to believe she’s on top of the world, she needs someone else to believe it. But what does Robert need? I think that’s the question worth pursuing. Once you start counting up the master-slave dialectics in here — doctor/patient, suitor/pursued, director/actor, cop/criminal, pusher/addict, USA/Germany, editor/writer — you start to feel you’ve entered a hall of mirrors.
Sad, and sometimes (probably intentionally) cliche in its melodramatic gestures, completely engaging.