A frustratingly not-terrible action thriller.
"Veronika Voss" was the next-to-last film made by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who died June 10, 1982 in Munich of a fatal combination of drugs and alcohol. It tells a story of a German actress, famous in the 1940s, who tried to revive her flagging career with alcohol and drugs, and fell into the hands of a sadistic woman doctor who provided the drugs as a means of controlling rich patients. The film is based on the life of Sybille Schmitz, "the German Garbo," who starred in many glossy postwar West German films before becoming addicted to drugs and killing herself in the late 1950s.
What was Fassbinder trying to tell us in this film? It was made, I understand, during a period when cocaine was making his life unmanageable. He called "Veronika Voss" the third film in his trilogy about the West German "economic miracle" of the 1950s and 1960s; the other two films were "The Marriage of Maria Braun" and "Lola." Never has a stranger trilogy been made about an economic system.
If "Maria Braun" made its heroine into a symbol of Germany pulling itself together after the end of the war, and "Lola" was about the conflict between corruption and duty, "Veronika Voss" seems to be about Germany's lingering fascination with the images of the 1930s, with the carefully cultivated aesthetic of decadence, domination, perversion, and sinister sexuality.
It gives us a heroine who, at one time in her career, stood for the sort of sophisticated, chic sexuality associated with Marlene Dietrich. But by the time we meet Veronika Voss, she can't even pull herself together to do a tiny scene in a movie. She seeks comfort from strangers. She is hopelessly addicted to drugs, and is the captive of a psychiatrist who enjoys having a fallen star around the office.