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Film / Veronika Voss

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Veronika Voss is a 1982 film by Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

It's set in Munich in 1955. Robert Krohn, a sports reporter with a Munich newspaper, meets a woman in the rain outside a movie theater. Her name is Veronika Voss, and the film they just watched was one of her old movies. Voss was a big star in German cinema during the Nazi Germany era, but after the war she struggled to find work. It gets worse than that: Veronika is addicted to morphine, and is in the clutches of her Dr. Feelgood, evil neurologist Dr. Marianne Katz. The “good doctor” has a scam in which she gets rich people hooked on morphine and then bleeds them of their assets. Veronika, in fact, has signed over her mansion and everything else she owns to Dr. Katz.

Robert has a girlfriend—Henriette, a photographer at the paper—but he's enchanted by the alluring Veronika and they become lovers. Robert tries to help Veronika escape from Dr. Katz's clutches and start a new film career, but the good doctor isn't going to back down easily.

Fassbinder’s next-to-last film and the last film in his "BRD Trilogy" of movies about life in West Germany in the years after the war, following The Marriage of Maria Braun and Lola.


  • Adaptation Dye-Job: Assuming the film is a Roman à Clef of the life of Sybille Schmitz, Schmitz was famous for her dark hair, but Fassbinder portrays her fictional counterpart as a blonde.
  • Alliterative Name: Veronika Voss, just like the name of the real life actress who inspired the character, Sybille Schmitz.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Strongly hinted at with Dr. Katz, who is awfully touchy-feely with Veronika, oddly close with her nurse and co-conspirator Josefa, and is often dressed like a butch lesbian.
  • Ambiguously Jewish: The film implies that the elderly couple Robert meets are Jewish due to the number tattoos on their arms, it is never outright stated if that was the reason they were imprisoned in the camps.
  • Artistic License – History: Mr. Triebel shows a number tattoo on his arm and says he is a survivor of Treblinka. It's not impossible, but Treblinka, an extermination camp as opposed to a slave labor camp, had less than a hundred survivors.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Dr. Katz and her little gang of criminals get away with everything, including the murder of Henriette, the semi-murder of Veronika and the Treibels, and the seizure of all their assets. The ending has Robert watching them celebrate before wearily going back home.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Veronika longs to be recognized by her fans, but the one time it happens at a jewelry shop, she ends up with a massive anxiety attack and flees in embarrassment.
  • Chiaroscuro: Discussed Trope. While at lunch with Robert, Veronika expresses dissatisfaction with the lighting and asks for a candelabra for the table. She holds it in front of her and says "Light and shadow: the two secrets of motion pictures." And in fact several scenes are shot this way, like when Veronika and Robert have sex in her now-empty mansion.
  • Broken Bird: Veronika becomes one after being abandoned by the film industry and nearly forgotten by the public.
  • Coincidental Broadcast: Whenever a radio is on, someone's talking about West Germany's entrance into NATO. Except for the flashback, in which some radio Nazi is trying to put a good spin on the deteriorating war situation.
  • Corrupt Bureaucrat: Robert and Henriette report on Dr. Katz's misdeeds to some guy in glasses who is a bureaucrat with whatever the West German equivalent of the FDA or DEA might be, some sort of agency charged with stopping Dr. Feelgoods. He airily dismisses their claims. It turns out he's part of Dr. Katz's conspiracy.
  • Creator Cameo: Common in Fassbinder films. He's sitting behind Veronika as she watches her old movie in the opening scene.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: Shot in black-and-white, as part of the Retraux old melodrama look.
  • Downer Ending: Henriette dies, Veronika dies, Robert's defeated, The Bad Guy Wins.
  • Dr. Feelgood: Dr. Katz is more evil than your standard Dr. Feelgood. Not only does she hook addicts up with their morphine, she apparently creates addicts deliberately, and then she bleeds them of everything they own, finally driving them to suicide by refusing to give them any more drugs after they run out of money.
  • The Dragon: Dr. Katz has her nurse Josefa do most of her dirty work.
  • Driven to Suicide: How most of Dr. Katz's victims end up. Including Veronika.
  • Dutch Angle: How the other people on the bus are framed in the scene where Veronika is panicking about having to sit amongst them. She claims to be afraid of being recognized, but she's probably afraid of not being recognized.
  • Flashback: The clip from Veronika's movie is followed by a flashback to her shooting that same scene. There's a longer flashback later, showing Veronika and Max's deteriorating marriage during the latter years of the war.
  • Foreshadowing: The UFA film that Veronika starred in at the begining of the film basically outlines her relationship with Dr. Katz.
  • Hope Spot: Veronika manages to land a small part in a movie and hopes it will be a new start for her; she even suggests she might kick morphine. But it's a disaster, as she blows take after take of a very easy scene before collapsing with morphine withdrawal symptoms.
  • Match Cut: From Robert fiddling with a radio in Veronika's mansion, to a shot of Veronika's husband doing the same thing years ago during the war, in a flashback.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Veronika's backstory is taken almost verbatim from the fate of UFA star Sybille Schmitz.
  • Psycho Lesbian: the evil Dr. Katz is heavily implied to be involved in a lesbian relationship with both her female nurse Josefa and Veronika.
  • Retraux: The whole film is shot like one of the melodramas that Veronika might have been in during the war. It's in black and white, the opening titles are in a retro cursive script, and there are lots of wipes and iris outs.
  • Roman à Clef: The life of UFA actress Sybille Schmitz. Schmitz was a big star in the 1930s and 1940s, with roles in films like Vampyr and the 1943 Nazi take on Titanic. Like Veronika, she was rumored to have been linked with Nazi propaganda leader and film boss Joseph Goebbels. Like Veronika, her career petered out after the war, with only sporadic acting parts. Like Veronika, she got addicted to morphine and fell in with a lesbian Dr. Feelgood who bled her of her money and then forced her to go through terrible withdrawals until she ended up committing suicide. Pretty much the only change to the Schmitz story is the addition of the reporter character, which seems influenced by Sunset Boulevard. Fassbinder toyed with making a Schmitz Biopic before changing the character's name.
  • Satellite Character: The black American soldier who is a companion to Dr. Katz. He probably is somehow symbolic of the American presence in West German life during that era (the same time that West Germany was joining NATO), and he might be a bouncer/enforcer for Dr. Katz, as he is a large fellow. But he never does anything over the whole course of the movie and doesn't affect the story at all.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Dr. Katz jarringly alternates between looking like a frumpy lesbian and a stylish Femme Fatale.
  • Together in Death: The elderly couple Robert saw being victimized by Dr. Katz commit suicide together by ingesting poison-laced chocolates.
  • White-Dwarf Starlet: Veronika, once a huge star during the Third Reich, but now largely forgotten, as well as wracked by a debilitating morphine addiction.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Dr. Katz forces her victims to overdose on narcotics once they finish signing over all their assets to her.