Franz Biberkopf (Rainer Werner Fassbinder) works in a fairground, helping out among the sideshows and the strippers, though today a mishap occurs when the barker, his boyfriend, is arrested by local police for supposedly offensive material and told he will be put away for three years at least, this time. Now Franz is left all at sea, but he has one hope in his life, that he will win the lottery - sure, so do millions across the country, but he has a good feeling about this week's prize, certain it will come to him. The trouble is, with his job evaporating and nobody to lend him any cash after he loses his stake to a couple of bully boys, where can he catch a break and find five marks to buy his ticket?
Fox and His Friends was the English language title to director/writer/star Fassbinder's Faustrecht der Freiheit, sometimes abbreviated to simply Fox, though in German it meant something closer to Survival of the Fittest, which was used as its tagline. It was a drama obsessed with class, something akin to George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion only without the investigation into language, as Fox does indeed win the lottery in a contrivance that tends to only happen in the movies, but once he does the plot can get going and he can place snobbery and social injustice under his unforgiving microscope. What was unusual was that he was playing the man who gains a sudden windfall.
Although Fassbinder was not precisely an overnight success as it had taken a little while for his work to be internationally recognised, and even then he was a cult figure in those circles that did, he was doing very well for himself professionally at this, the halfway point in his filmography, and presumably this meant he was rubbing shoulders with those who were more financially blessed than he had been used to, hence his interest in portraying a man who rises and falls thanks to his lottery win. He thinks this extra cash will improve his quality of life, but it doesn't work out that way, in a manner reminiscent of the infamous British pools winner Viv Nicholson in the previous decade, who similarly was ruined by her apparent good fortune.
The difference here was Fox's homosexuality, which informed his community and relationships in a manner that completely accepted this lifestyle, much as it would have been had he been straight, which in its way was groundbreaking. Nevertheless, the old cliché about gay characters being born to suffer in the cinema was not too far away, propagated by those of that orientation as well as the heterosexual persuasion who happened to write material on that subject, and if you were hoping for a happy ending to buck that trend you would be substantially out of luck in that respect. Fassbinder was not, however, making a film that promoted one lifestyle over another as far as sexuality went, these people happened to be gay but it was the class they had originated from that was the most important aspect.
Fox, flush with money, sets out to better his lot by becoming a businessman, so hooks up with an upper-class gentleman, Eugen (Peter Chatel), and soon they are in love and buying an apartment together, a swanky one of course, with Fox propping up his boyfriend's printing company in the belief this will make him part of the strata of society that would have eluded him and his fellow working classes had he not been rich. The trouble with that being, he remains resolutely working class whatever he does, and this point was hammered home with a regularity that was occasionally amusing, yet eventually turned deadening and oppressive. This was a film lasting over two hours that made that point within its first hour, leaving you to watch as the protagonist's existence unwound and eventually destructed, not through his hubris but through the upper-classes' lack of respect or willingness to accept him. There were harsh lessons here, you hesitated to say harsh truths when the rise of the nouveau riche was around the corner, but there was a horrible satisfaction in the downfall that may make you uncomfortable. Music by Peer Raben.