The first episode of "Berlin Alexanderplatz," Rainer Werner Fassbinder's 13-part (plus epilogue), 15 1/2-hour adaptation of Alfred Doblin's 1929 novel, is called "The Punishment Begins." There is a heavy, obvious irony, since the hero of this modern urban anti-epic, a former pimp named Franz Biberkopf, has just been released from Tegel Prison, where he has served a four-year sentence for beating his girlfriend to death. A.O. Scott reports.
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