Austrian actor Rudolf Lenz (1920–1987) wears a face that I am sure I have seen outside German cinema, and yet I still cannot place it. Even with the benefit of the Internet Movie Database, I am still sure that I have seen him elsewhere, but the more I consider it the more that I think I may have perhaps enjoyed him so much in World on a Wire that I have imagined him to have a had a wider career than he did.
In Fassbinder's Effi Briest, Lenz is the provincial doctor, (Geheimrat Rummschüttel) reminding the viewer perhaps of Effi’s absent husband. In fact, Effi is perpetually surrounded by people that are not her husband, and all are substitutes one way or another, and all seem to conspire to restrict and constrict her. Lenz advises no visits and no books. He is described as a ‘ladies’ doctor’ which is a curious expression, at once damning although Effi thinks of it as something of a compliment. He treats the ladies like children anyway, and appears to be very expensive.
In these situations, such as when both mother and daughter lie lethargic on the sofa together, it is easy to see how the men of this society are conspiring in plain daylight to subject their women; and the medical profession, like the legal profession, are the first in line to help.
Fairly asked though: which 19thC novel about a woman would be complete without the doctor figure? Everything is deduced from spoken allusions, and the world is colourless, like Effi’s illness. Rudolf Lenz’s performance for Fassbinder is cool, in a very cool and artificial film, and playing something Fassbinder was very good at portraying: German manners, oppressive, often with a face of kindness.