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The short-lived skyrocket named Rainer Werner Fassbinder began his prolific directing career with a burst of rule-breaking movies in 1969-70. Gods of the Plague, from that early eruption, is a kind of homage-deconstruction of the American crime movie, in the same vein as RWF's Love Is Colder Than Death and The American Soldier. An ex-con (zonked-out Harry Baer in an ankle-length leather jacket) wanders through grungy Munich, on an eventual collision course with a botched supermarket robbery. The film has virtually no narrative momentum, and carries the cheeky attitude of experimental theater--the movie stops cold as the hero listens to a German nonsense song in its entirety. Yet from the first five minutes you can sense the eye of a great filmmaker behind the exquisitely poised camera (clearly influenced in this one by the anything-goes spirit of early Godard). Fassbinder regulars Hanna Schygulla and Gunther Kaufmann are especially good here. --Robert Horton
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