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Despair (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, West Germany/France, 1978)

Vladimir Nabokov’s novel is adapted by Tom Stoppard into an icy, psycho-melodramatic nightmare... A superb surrealist noir.
— Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

While the controversial subject matter of Nabokov's Lolita made it a difficult sell, it is the concept of Nabokov’s earlier novel, Despair, that makes it seem particularly unfilmable. Set in Weimar Berlin, the narrator is convinced he has stumbled across his exact double and his thoughts soon turn to how he can use this uncanny resemblance to his (criminal, natch) advantage. In the pages of the book, the fact of this resemblance is questionable: after all, the reader only has the narrator's word for it and the narrator of Despair is especially unreliable (and indeed, Despair's Hermann Hermann can be read as a dry-run for Lolita's Humbert Humbert). How, then, to present this in the medium of film without sacrificing the novel's ambiguity? Enter controversial German filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder, British playwright Tom Stoppard (screenplay) and sauvely sinister Dirk Bogarde (Hermann Hermann).