The Third Generation (1979) Poster

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the sins of the fathers...
jaibo17 December 2006
Warning: Spoilers
The Third Generation is anything but an accessible film. It's story is relatively simple - a group of rather middle-class young radicals set off bombs, hold up banks and kidnap an industrialist, whilst a police net closes in around them. There is a traitor in their midst, and little do these bumbling terrorists know that the person holding the purse strings for their organisation is the rich industrialist himself, who has begun the film by pontificating how the lack of terrorist activities in Germany makes it difficult for he and his political friends to move Authoritarian measures into place. A topical film then. What is striking about it is Fassbinder's extraordinary approach to both narrative - made up of stark, elliptical scenes veering between polemic, realism and surrealism - and mis-en-scene. Most of the sets are domestic interiors, and these are filmed from such odd angles, and lit with a strange plasticity, so that the environments become as much characters in the film as the human figures. One scene, a long and fairly talky piece in which the cell go over their plans and review their situation, is filmed with such choreographic virtuosity that it takes the breath away - a single long pan around the room catches snatches of dialogue and interaction, as the characters themselves crisscross the screen, rising or sitting as the camera moves onto them, each piece of the conversation picking up as its speakers encounter the screen. It must have taken a great deal of minute rehearsal and a perfectly mathematical mind to carry off this exceptional sequence, which is truly bravura.

The film looks and sounds like no other. Besides the weird visual quality of the interiors, the soundtrack has a constant backing of TV speak, mood music, a strange din which is always competing for the viewer's attention against what is being said by the characters on the screen. This has a two-fold purpose: it both emphasises the way in which these people encounter a world mediated by broadcasters; and also does the Brechtian trick of emphasising the phoniness of the cloak-and-dagger noir/spy thriller situations the film places its characters in. These are emphatically people caught in someone else's plot, or in their own, it's hard to tell.

The Third Generation is scabrous about the bourgeois values of the industrialist and his associates (these values are condemned as the same values the Nazis cherished - hard work, obedience to authority, family life) and about the terrorists, who are bunglers, dreamers, chaotic buffoons whose "war" against the bourgeoisie is merely a carnival arranged by the elite class to promote itself. The terrorists, for all their bravado and antics, are pretty good for nothing, and trapped in a paradigm of male domination of the female, as if being a male chauvinist pig were a radical, anti-bourgeois move. Fassbinder's view of then contemporary Germany was bleak - it was a country being punished for the sins of the fathers "even unto the third generation". I doubt whether, if Fassbinder were alive and turning his vision on our present situation, he would consider that those sins had been expiated yet.
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The World as Will and Idea...
artihcus02228 September 2008
Along with In A Year of 13 Moons, this is the only other Fassbinder film on which the director/writer/producer also served as director of photography. Like that film it features bold striking compositions and rich colours that are perfectly saturated and stylized to the right amount. The Third Generation was made in 1979 two years after the German Autumn, the crackdown of the Baader-Meinhof gang. Despite it's topicality however Fassbinder's film is about the future about the world of tomorrow as exemplified by it's evocation of science-fiction masterpieces like Solaris mentioned and cited in this film, the casting of the star of Alphaville, Eddie Constantine as the head of a computer business organization and the constant presence of technology in this film, either off-screen(speakers and recording equipment) or on-screen(TV screens and later guns and bombs). The score by Peer Raben is appropriately electronic.

The story of The Third Generation is hard to summarize or describe and most people won't understand one bit of this film when they see it for the first time. See it twice and thrice and then it adds up. The story is just as fragmented as the personalities and lives of it's characters. The terrorist cell at the center of the film is a group of mostly middle-class misfits and apathetic junkies who are a mass of unresolved tensions and contradictions. Bulle Ogier's a stern history teacher(crucially introduced to us discussing the 1848 revolution in Prussia) but she's also a would-be feminist who submits to becoming a sex toy of Paul the "leader" of the group. Hanna Schygulla is your average bubbly corporate secretary but she's also carrying out a sado-masochistic affair with her father-in-law. Most of these "terrorists" activities for the first half are relegated to living in an apartment of a drug addicted young girl, later joined by her former boyfriend and his friend. Their activities here are confined to juvenile games and irritating each other out of their skulls later extended to breaking-and-entering and bank robbery. The sole murder committed by them is revenge acted out by a submissive over the dominant.

The actions of the police, the business interests, the government bureaucracy however is that of self-justification, of ruthless exercise of power and repression whose machinery ultimately incorporates these terrorists willingly and unwillingly.

The relation of this film to our current-day hell-hole needs little elaboration. This is a film for the 21st Century, the children of the third generation, one just as compromised and confused as it's forebears.
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Undeserving of neglect
jmabel27 July 2000
Warning: Spoilers
I saw this film when it first came out, so I apologize if my recollections are a bit vague after so many years.

This film reflected Fassbinder's increasing alienation from violent German leftist grouplets such as the Red Army Faction (a.k.a. Baader-Meinhoff Gang) with which he had earlier (e.g. in "Deutschland im Herbst") shown some sympathy. Still, the film also contains its own stark critique of capitalism: in a plot somewhat reminiscent of the McCarthyist-Communist conspiracy of "The Manchurian Candidate", the "third generation" terrorist organization of the title turns out to be backed by a wealthy industrialist who backs terror in order to create the danger that will help him sell his security systems.

The film's middle-class protagonists turn to terrorism as an escape from their boring lives. And they have no idea who is financing their terrorist spree. At first it's a lark. Then they discover (surprise!) that those who live by the sword... well, you know the rest.

All that makes the film sound very heavy and serious. Actually, it's a very dark comedy. And the sequence near the end, wonderful. A vivid memory 20 years after I saw it.
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The Devil Probably
tieman6431 August 2011
Warning: Spoilers
"The first generation was that of '68. Idealists, who wanted to change the world and imagined they could do that with words and demonstrations. The second, the Baader-Meinhof Group, went from legality to armed struggled and total illegality. The third's the generation of today, which simply acts without thinking, which has neither a policy nor an ideology and which, certainly without realising it, lets itself be manipulated by others, like a bunch of puppets." - Fassbinder

Rainer Werner Fassbinder opens "The Third Generation" with an inscription which reads "Dedicated to someone who truly loves – so to no one, probably", a nod to Robert Bresson, made overt by the following shot, in which a camera floats above a cityscape and lands on a television screen. The screen's showing the climax of Bresson's "The Devil Probably", a film which Fassbinder adored.

The power of "Generation's" opening shot is only appreciated with an understanding of what's happening at the climax of Bresson's "Devil". Here a student radical called Charles casts aside the hope and possibility of revolution and decides instead to commit suicide, an act which he views as a form of radical non-participation. "If I did anything," Charles says, "then I'd be useful in a world that disgusts me."

Charles initially flirts with active resistance, of course, but eventually rejects all "shocks to the system" outright. Pay a dollar for dynamite and you're already feeding the machine you want to injure. Under capitalism – which Bresson labels "the Devil guiding all things" (a kind of parody of Smith's "Invisible Hand") - no one is an innocent bystander and, contrary to those who believe in the super-neutrality of money, all participants are perpetrators of violence. For Charles, it is simply easier to imagine the end of all life than the end of his political-economic system. A system which, because it consists of an endless Eternal Now, no longer allows for a future.

Ironically, Fassbinder has Bresson's climax, which literally captures the death of a certain revolutionary spirit (Fassbinder considered himself a "utopian anarchist"), played on a television set perched in the office of an ultra rich, mega-corporate head. The on-screen death seems to birth the very Empire in which the television sits, and Bresson's film seems to itself play on a perpetual loop within this office, like a religious sacrament, worshipped by those who owe their wealth to Charles' death.

Of course what all great directors were concerned about during this period was the question of where political and revolutionary agency now lies, and why the political radicalism, hopefulness and sense of urgency of the 1960s quickly morphed into disillusionment and despair (and the resultant rise in "escapism", "the Blockbuster", "apoliticism" etc). As examples, see Antonioni's "Zabriskie Point", "Hadewijch", Godard's numerous "filmed essays", particularly "La Chinoise", or even more mainstream fare like "Full Metal Jacket", where our hero smugly believes himself to be an enlightened non participant.

"Generation" takes the form of a dark farce about a gang of West Berliners who decide to create a terrorist cell. Fassbinder, however, paints the group as a bundle of bumbling idiots, enamoured by "adventure" and "radicalism" and carrying out violent attacks dressed in cartoonish costumes. They plan to kidnap multinational kingpin P.J Lurz "in the name of the people, for the good of the people", but are oblivious to the fact that Lurz (Eddie Constantine, mimicking Yves Montand in Costa-Gavras's "State of Siege"), owner of a multinational security firm, is dependent on their very "terrorism" to boost sales and legitimise the importance of defence contracts. In other words, capitalism monetises radicalism and terrorism fortifies rather than undoes reactionary power structures. Or as Fassbinder himself says: "terrorism is an idea generated by capitalism to justify better defence measures to safeguard capital."

The film's terrorist cell is based on the Red Army Faction (aka the Baader-Meinhoff Gang), a group of ultra leftist radicals active in Germany between the 1970s and late 1990s, but it echoes even contemporary history. Think Bush/Cheney, and later the co-opted "Arab Spring".

Beyond Bresson, Goddard's "La Chinoise" also plays a big influence, Fassbinder using Goddardian title cards, freeze frames, on-screen text, chapters and aural tricks. His dense walls of sound perhaps allude to Germany's increasingly right wing media, adept at exploiting public hysteria, and the everyday chatter of information technology, which dulls and distracts rather than informs its audience. Indeed, most of the film is bathed in the sounds emitted from TVs, computers and radios, their intrusive warbles forever shaping Fassbinder's characters.

The title of Arthur Schopenhauer's 1819 opus, "The World as Will and Representation", is used as a password by the terrorists, but they largely miss the point of Schopenhauer's text. For the gang, one's "willpower changes the world". For Schopenhauer, however, one's will and desires undermine knowledge, reason, and are always subjugated to a larger, universal Will, impersonal forces which shape all lives. Following the will's dictates, Schopenhauer believed, leads to self deception, suffering and the worshipping of mere "representations" rather than "what's real". He advocated getting rid of "the will", which today echoes many tenets of Buddhism. And so one of the ironies of Fassbinder's film is that the very structure of the terrorist organisation resembles exactly that which they fight against, with its rigid hierarchical structure and sexist, power hungry opportunists.

The film is divided into several chapters, titled "You always pull the short straw", "male same-sex relations but with no S and M", "opposite sex relations", "xenophobia as a reflection of the violence between conservatives and liberals", "sadomasochism", and "Killroy was here", the latter two titles alluding to the interpersonal dynamics which permeate the film ("Slave desperately seeks master to train me as his dog!" one card reads) and the lasting effects of the United States' presence in West Germany.

8.5/10 – Though hastily written, Fassbinder regarded "Generation" as his fourth best film. Multiple viewings required.
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Are our actions self-legitimating?
hasosch27 February 2009
Warning: Spoilers
According to what R.W. Fassbinder said in an interview, the first generation of "terrorist" acted out of idealism, paired with a great sensibility and an almost insane despair about their own powerlessness regarding the state as a system and its representatives. The second generation were those who acted out of their understanding and compassion for what the first generation fought; thus, several of them were lawyers who used to defend the "terrorist" of the first generation.

However, around the middle of the 70ies, in Germany, a "third generation" arose, but her motives were neither idealistic nor solidaric, but allegedly legitimated by their actions. Therefore, this hard to understand movie circles around the metaphysical question if actions can be self-legitimating or not, and their political consequences. The montage of Fassbinder's film suggests an almost total loss of coherence, the scenes are connected rather hazardly by abrupt cuts. Moreover, Fassbinder uses one of his favorite media of style: the sound-collage. In "The Third Generation", he combines three and more sound levels and in addition TV-broadcasting, video-registrations and more, so that the omnipresent media have started a life of their own: we understand nothing anymore. Obviously, according to the film director, only when this stage of despair is reached, our actions are self-legitimating, but mostly because all sense is gone.
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When there's a will there's a way, and that goes for filmmakers, too
Quinoa198425 June 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I went into The Third Generation, quite frankly, not expecting it to be a black-as-death comedy of errors. I was under the impression, perhaps misinterpreted by a description on a netflix DVD, that Satan's Brew was Fassbinder's only real comedy. But as it turns out The Third Generation is one not merely in its context but in the form; this is one of the Fassbinder films that owes far less to the melodramas one sees throughout his career than to Godard, who was also a big influence (if only, as I've heard, to beat his prolific output). Specifically, in The Third Generation, one can see Fassbinder, in telling this loosely episodic and original story of Berlin terrorists, a challenge to what was already a great challenge with La Chinoise: how to show on film how absurd a terrorist group really is, how it functions when not absolutely clear and concise like a bunch of man/women-children, and how the form of the film, the style, has to go with that.

Damn it all if this isn't such a warped movie. I don't even mean that just in its characterizations, though there is some of that, but in the nature of its filming, the contradictions between the content and the style, and the nature of over-lapping sound. Please do pay attention to how sound is used in The Third Generation: it's the kind of relentless assault that, at least in this facet, comes closest to Godard's attack on cinema. There's very rarely a scene where it's just silent, and often the sources go on top and blend into one another, with characters speaking dialog, and then music (either/and/or the very experimental compositions and instrument choices by Peer Raben or incidental), and then usually a television/videos or other dialog or something else entirely.

It certainly can contend with Altman as having the most sophisticated sense of sound editing, but it's not just this, or even those perfectly lurid transitions taken from writings on bathroom walls and stalls (again, a twist on Godard's chapter-break-up): Fassbinder's savage satire is about the contradiction of a society that is so alienated that they are literally trapped in their houses most days and nights while scrambling for some kind of plan they wait and plot to enact. Fassbinder's camera- which for this he was his own DoP- does sometimes move fast, like say in the shooting scene at the restaurant (watch the fast pan to his face, not expected but very effective), but a lot of the time it stays still, or moves slowly in on a room, on faces or a situation unfolding, like with the naked woman compulsively stealing money. But there's other scenes where it's just maddening (in the best possible way) to see what he'll shoot, like when the snitch is rambling on and on to the Inspector about "You're his father, You're father is his grandfather" repeatedly as if in a coke-head trance, as the camera does long takes, barely moving on this insane scene happening in front of us.

What ultimately separates a radical like Godard and a radical like Fassbinder, however, is perspective. For a short period Godard was actually on the side of the revolutionaries/terrorists in France, however many there were, in the heat of 1968, even if, arguably, La Chinoise worked best as a subtle or unintentional attack on such misguided 20-somethings. Fassbinder, on the other hand, hated these bastards in Berlin, the youth groups who kept starting up stuff to the point where he moved to Paris, and decided to do his own kind of lampooning, if you will. Some parts aren't funny, at all, such as the junkie overdose or the implication of the higher-ups like Eddie Constantine's character actually fronting the terrorists money, or, of course, Gunther Kauffman's own path and moments as a character. Other parts, like the shoot-out in the street with the gang in drag/weird costumes would make any surrealist wet their pants in gleeful, obscene laughter.

What makes The Third Generation so invigorating a piece of cinema is its distinctive style, its approach to taking a stance practically politically with its barrage of sound and deliberately methodical camera movements and the rapid-fire cutaways to other things happening in other rooms or buildings or moments. But also the nature of this group-think mentality, of which there's so few really good films let alone possibly great ones. It's a serio-comic experiment in Gonzo movie-making from someone who knows his stuff.
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Weird, Hermetic, Disconnected but Mesmerizing Film
claudio_carvalho25 July 2010
In Berlin, a cell of terrorist composed by middle-class people is activated with the sentence "The World as Will and Idea", based on the central work of the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer "The World as Will and Representation". They plan to abduct the businessman P. J. Lurz ( Eddie Constantine) that works with sales of computers, while they are chased by a persistent chief of police.

"Die Dritte Generation" a.k.a. "The Third Generation" is a weird, hermetic, disconnected but mesmerizing film of German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder, divided in six chapters and dedicated to those who truly love (meaning no one in the vision of the director). The plot explores the concept of terrorism and the contradictions of the middle- class and apparently the central idea is based on Schopenhauer's central work. Unfortunately I do not have knowledge in philosophy, sociology or political science to fully understand this inaccessible film. Fassbinder uses unusual angles with his camera and strange sounds to expose with irony the bourgeois values of each ridiculous terrorist of this generation that does not have ideology. In the end, I liked this collection of ideas in spite of I have not clearly understood the film as a whole. My vote is six.

Title (Brazil): "A Terceira Geração" ("The Third Generation")
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A masterpiece.
larsgorzelak12 June 2002
Fassbinder at the peak of his creative powers. Die dritte Generation is as funny as it is scary, and is just as relevant today as it was when it was first released almost 25 years ago. Aesthetically as well as thematically, this is one of the director's most fascinating - along with Die Händler der vier Jahreszeiten (1974).
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strange but fascinating
bendross15 April 2010
i can't say i really understood this movie but i was gripped. i'd drunk 8 beers before watching and fancied something heavy and wot heavier than Fassbinder i thought. i've read all the reviews of this movie on IMDb and they tell me it's a comedy. i didn't laugh once but Fassbinder really is way above my head in every way, so u may see the comedy that i missed out on. i also read u need to see this movie 2 or 3 times to get it. i think this movie was just too complex for my little brain but i still loved it. Fassbinder's 'fox and his friends' is one of my favourite ever films so i will always be open to a Fassbinder film. i will watch this film again because i really think there is something special going on. i shouldn't have drunk 8 beers before watching this complex work but like i said, i still enjoyed it which i think says something about Fassbinder.
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treywillwest3 October 2018
Warning: Spoilers
I found this to be one of the more strictly, and simplistically, satiric of the films I've seen by Fassbinder. The Third Generation lacks the emotional complexity and uniqueness of tone of the director's best work. Here, we are allowed to know how to feel as long as we catch the film's BIG MESSAGE. West German radicals tried to burn the print of this movie when it was released in 1979 and its not hard to see why it pissed them off so much. Fassbinder is telling us that the no-longer young "New Left" has, in West Germany at least, not so much "sold out" to the establishment as been co-opted by it. Revolutionary violence is only another tool of the capitalist state to justify its increasingly mechanistic systems of surveillance and control. This theme and the film's plot could have the potential to be a wonderful downer. But Fassbinder's misanthropy makes it difficult for the viewer to care that the main characters are caught in a trap. One has the sense that Fassbinder is shrugging his shoulders and saying, "Society is a cesspool and can't be otherwise because humans are irredeemable assholes." This might be true, but it's not an attitude that elicits narrative or thematic connection on the part of the audience. The quality of the film making, however, is quite high. The movie was made on a very small budget, and Fassbinder served as his own DP. This was a relatively late work in the director's brief career and by this time he had a very fine eye, with some memorably bizarre imagery particularly late in the film, and a wonderfully subterranean soundtrack.
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Terrorism is a stupid joke
m6716529 May 2003
This director thinks terrorism is a stupid joke. The third generation of terror here is a bunch of bored citizens who are dumb enough not to wonder who is giving out the money that pays for their guns. It's a quite scary and funny way to look at contemporary society and some of its extremely radical enemies. Some viewers might find it disturbing instead of hilarious.
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Too absurd to make a political impact Warning: Spoilers
"Die dritte Generation" or "The Third Generation" is a West German German-language film from the year 1979, so this one will soon have its 40th anniversary. The writer and director is Rainer Werner Fassbinder and it is among his later works. He died 3 years later an untimely death at the age of 37. This is one of the films by him where he really unleashes and what worked very well with "Satansbraten" did not work out so well here. The film is over-the-top and ignores all kinds of restrictions. The reason I did not like it is because it just didn't fit the topic. This is one of Fassbinder's most political movies and it's obvious he was very much influenced in his work by the big issue of left-wing terrorism in the FRG back then. But with some of the scenes and dialogues, the film loses all its seriousness in my eyes. The cast once again includes several familiar names from his movies such as Carstensen, Kaufmann, Schygulla and Spengler. So if you have seen some other works by Fassbinder, you will definitely recognize some familiar faces. I personally can see though why this film was not received so well by awards bodies despite the political relevance it had without a doubt back then. I have to give it a thumbs-down. Not recommended.
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