Acht Stunden sind kein Tag

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Acht Stunden sind kein Tag (1972-73) is Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s ode to the working class. The television mini-series produced for Westdeutscher Rundfunk follows a set of close knit, overlapping communities (family, friends, co-workers, and naighbors) with each episode examining a facet of one of these communities and how it overcomes some sort of obstacle. Each of the five episodes features a main plot and a sub plot with one addressing a political or social issue and the other something more personal like a romance or friendship.

Like Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980), Acht Stunden sind kein Tag is an epic portrait of a city and its working class residents. However, unlike Berlin Alexanderplatz, Acht Stunden sind kein Tag is neither fatalist nor pessimistic. Acht Stunden sind kein Tag is Fassbinder’s most hopeful and optimistic film; a sort of treatise on how the working class can take their fates into their own hands. Acht Stunden sind kein Tag is a socialist melodrama in the tradition of Bertolt Brecht but told in the idiom of Douglas Sirk.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder was raised in Bavaria within a communal lifestyle where parenting roles were shared across the commune. This experience is typically manifested in Fassbinder’s work in the form of characters vying for control of a community or circumstance through manipulative power grabs and betrayals. Acht Stunden sind kein Tag differs in that it celebrates and explores the potential of this lifestyle as a philosophy. In this way Acht Stunden sind kein Tag could be seen as Die Niklashauser Fart (1970) without the intervention of a fascistic power or the formal influence of Jean-Marie Straub.

The stylistic tone of Fassbinder in Acht Stunden sind kein Tag is light and playful; casting his usual melodramatic tropes and strategies with a sense of whimsy. All of Fassbinder’s usual players are present as well, and each is afforded a moment to shine. The tone of Fassbinder’s visuals and that of his players recalls the films of Ernst Lubitsch in how “play” becomes the great democratiser of the cinematographic image. Acht Stunden sind kein Tag is melodrama as promise; a series of affecting narratives designed to inspire and instruct the audience.

The episode that stands out as the great exemplar of Fassbinder’s intentions with Acht Stunden sind kein Tag is Oma und Gregor (1972). The great Luise Ulrich plays Oma who, while looking for an apartment, decides to open a public library for children. This episode charts how bureaucratic red tape keeps the working class subdued and how Oma, with the help of her grandchildren, boyfriend, and the neighborhood parents, opposes the institutional structures in place. It’s an episode of senior empowerment, romance, and of a Capra-like victory over the powers that be.

Despite its accessibility Acht Stunden sind kein Tag is still a work of political radicalism. Fassbinder, weary of the plastic family dramas on West German television set out to reinvent that genre as a socialist fantasy and succeeded. Through 1972 and into 1973, German televisions came alive with Fassbinder’s Acht Stunden sind kein Tag, with his hopes and dreams for the working class. From today’s vantage point, Acht Stunden sind kein Tag feels more modern and relevant than ever.