Dirk Bogarde plays Hermann Hermann, a chocolate manufacturer in prewar Germany, who begins to suffer from disassociative delusions; e.g., while making love to his wife, he sees himself coldly sitting across the room, watching. As his grip on his identity becomes shakier, he decides to escape his repressive bourgeois existence by murdering his own double in his place and taking on a new identity.
Fassbinder applies a fragmented visual style that perfectly suits Nabokov's mad story (which owes a lot to Poe and Dostoevsky); and Bogarde, not for the first time, is brilliant as a character dripping with effete condescension. Fassbinder and Stoppard manage to translate to the screen aspects of the novel that should have been unfilmable for reasons that, if explained, would give away all the fun.
Previously available only on a ratty VHS, “Despair” (in a recently restored version) has just been released on DVD and Blu-ray. The visual quality is, unsurprisingly, vastly improved; it may appear pale and washed out at first, but that's part of the visual style — lots of pale pastels in the early scenes.
The Blu-ray includes a fine 70-minute retrospective documentary; for whatever reason, the DVD omits this, making the Blu-ray a hugely better deal.
"Despair" (Olive Films, Blu-ray, 29.95; DVD, 24.95)