Music directorPeer Raben Duration CountryWest Germany
DirectorRainer Werner Fassbinder WriterTom Stoppard, Vladimir Nabokov Release date1978 (West Germany)
1979 (USA) CastDirk Bogarde (Hermann Hermann), Andréa Ferréol (Lydia Hermann), Klaus Löwitsch (Felix Weber), Volker Spengler (Ardalion), Peter Kern (Müller), Gottfried John (Perebrodov) Similar moviesThe Man Who Wasn't There, Double Indemnity, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Southland Tales, Chocolat, Enemy
Despair is a 1978 film directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder and starring Dirk Bogarde, based on the novel of the same name by Vladimir Nabokov. It was entered into the 1978 Cannes Film Festival.
Similarly to the novel, the tone of the film is ironic. The plot is mostly similar to the novel, although one of the key characters is significantly altered in the adaptation.
Hermann Hermann lives in Berlin during the Weimar Republic. A refugee from Soviet Russia, with a Baltic German father and a wealthy Jewish mother, he has inherited a business making chocolates. His wife Lydia, voluptuous but not intelligent, has an over-close relationship with her bachelor cousin, a painter called Ardalion. As the Great Depression bites and Nazi thugs start targeting Jewish businesses, with his firm becoming less profitable and Germany less hospitable, Hermann starts dreaming of escape. He already has moments of leaving his body, for example to watch himself making love to his wife, and consults a man he believes to be a Viennese psychiatrist. In fact it is a life insurance salesman, who sells Hermann a policy.
After watching a film which features a doppelgänger, he sees an unemployed drifter called Felix, who he decides is his double. Felix, bemused because he sees no resemblance beyond height and age, goes along with the idea when Hermann promises him a job. The work, it emerges, is to act as Hermann's double for a substantial lump sum.
Hermann is now able to finalise his plan, which is to erase all traces of his unwelcome existence. After getting Ardalion to write a letter that demands money to leave Lydia and go painting in Switzerland, he shows the letter to the insurance salesman as evidence that he is being blackmailed. Then he tells Lydia that he has a troubled twin brother who is contemplating suicide. He will change clothes with his brother, so that the corpse is taken as his, and lie low in Switzerland. When Lydia has been paid the insurance money, she is to join him there.
Meeting Felix in the woods, they change clothes and Hermann then shoots him dead. Dressed as Felix and with Felix's passport, he goes to a Swiss hotel, where he learns from newspapers that the Berlin police are seeking the murderer and suspect it is him. Moving in increasing desperation from village to village, in the end he is spotted by Ardalion and armed police close in. To them he explains that he is an actor making a film and they must stand aside to let him go on.
Dirk Bogarde – Hermann Hermann
Andréa Ferréol – Lydia Hermann
Klaus Löwitsch – Felix Weber
Volker Spengler – Ardalion
Peter Kern – Müller
Alexander Allerson – Mayer
Gottfried John – Perebrodov
Hark Bohm – Doctor
Bernhard Wicki – Orlovius
Adrian Hoven – Inspector Schelling
Roger Fritz – Inspector Braun
Y Sa Lo – Elsie
Armin Meier – 1st Twin/2nd Twin/Foreman
Ingrid Caven – Hotel receptionist
Voli Geiler – Madam
Despair was released to region 1 DVD and Blu-Ray in 2011.