Despair, directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, is a surreal screen version of Vladimir Nabokov's novel. The excellent screenplay by Tom Stoppard brings home the wit and psychological nuances of the original story.

Hermann (Dirk Bogarde), a Russian émigré, is the owner of a chocolate factory in Berlin during the 1920's. Bored with the comforts of the bourgeois life and the simplemindedness of his wife (Andrea Ferreol), he concocts what he believes to be the perfect crime. Hermann meets a vagabond laborer (Klaus Lowitsch) whom he envisions as his duplicate; he dresses him up his clothing and shoots him. Then he flees to Switzerland where he awaits his wife and the insurance money. But the scheme goes awry since the man doesn't resemble him at all. Hermann becomes the victim of his own distorted perception.

Fassbinder's stylized rendering of this tale involves the use of surrealistic dream images and sophisticated camera techniques to illustrate the protagonists' capitulation to fantasy. Bogarde's performance is poised and properly enigmatic.