Perhaps the most emotionally ambitious of Margarethe von Trotta's films, Sheer Madness explores the bond between an assured college professor, Olga (Hanna Schygulla), and neurotic, suicidal artist Ruth (Angela Winkler) who has withdrawn from the world. Olga embraces Ruth's talent while Ruth finds strength in Olga's confidence, but Ruth's insecure husband Franz (Peter Striebeck), a domineering figure who resents her empowerment and growing assurance, grows jealous of the bond and attempts to separate them. Social politics and individual psychology merge in a tragic story with a devastating climactic revelation. Beautifully shot by Fassbinder's former cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, this troubling and elusive character study is von Trotta's most stylistically impressive film: Ruth's world closes down on her and eases into a muddy darkness as she loses her grip on sanity. Every character is invested with a complexity that offers no easy answers or obvious villains (Franz is revealed as a caring husband who fears Olga's domination of his precarious wife), and Schygulla and Winkler glow with the passion of a friendship between two opposites whose attraction enlivens and enriches both of their lives. --Sean Axmaker
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