Filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder was a central figure in shaping films after World War II and became one of the major auteur filmmakers of the New German Cinema. His works varied from melodrama (The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant), to sci-fi noir (World on a Wire), to gothic thriller (Chinese Roulette), and ending in gay fantasia mixed with murder (Querelle). To say that Fassbinder’s work was extensive is a severe understatement. With at least 21 films created within his short life of 37 years, he was an intense talent that left us far too soon. With that intensity, there are various stories of how he treated his actors and friends. I heard one of these tales spun regarding how he would film without sound in order to torment his actors and dub their voices in post-production. Ironically, he satirizes his own alleged bullying in Beware a Holy Whore so what is real and what is fantasy is difficult to discern.
Enfant Terrible, produced by ARTE and distributed by Dark Star Pictures, offers us a loosely based biopic on the life. loves and works of Fassbinder.
The film opens up with Fassbinder (Oliver Masucci) making his mark at the Munich Action-Theater in 1967. He then assembles his acting troupe consisting of his cross-dressing and current lover Britta (Anton Rattinger), the insecure Kurt Raab (Hary Prinz), the talented but arrogant Ulli Lomell (Lucas Gregorowicz), the beautiful but abused Gudrun (Katja Riemann), along with the handsome but harried Gunter Kaufman (Michael Klammer). Fassbinder has his struggles at first but manages to find his muse and a lover in El Hedi ben Salem (Erdal Yildiz). As Fassbinder’s films take off, self-destruction and tragedy drags him down into his own personal hell of which he doesn’t escape from, sealing his fate with sex, drugs and the death of people he cares about, haunting him until his fatal demise.
Co-written and directed by Oskar Roehler, Enfant Terrible is crafted with intrigue as it provides the feel of a filmed stage play with its faux sets and artificial backdrops. While some viewers might find Markus Schutz’s art direction to be confusing, Fassbinder would utilize these artifices as many of his films were based on plays that he had written or adapted (The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant and Querelle come to mind). Even though the timeline as the movie jumps from Love is Colder Than Death (1968) to Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974) and misses many important films in Fassbinder’s oeuvre, the meta feel of this film with the biopic becoming a play with the actors playing their specific parts throughout, provides its appeal. Despite the inaccuracies of the story (what biopic doesn’t) along with its distorted characterizations which felt intended, Mr. Roehler provides us a biography of melodramatic proportions which seem satirical at first but provides shades of darkness as the film rolls on.
Oliver Masucci is engaging as the unpredictable but exaggerated Fassbinder where he takes sadism and brutality to new levels. Anton Rattinger is excellent with his over-the-top performance as Britta. Hary Prinz is fantastic as the obnoxious but hurting Kurt Raab. I especially enjoyed Katja Riemann’s performance as the naïve turned hardened Gudrun. This film is expertly cast with not a weak performance to be found.
For Fassbinder aficionados, Enfant Terrible will be met with derision. As I am not a maven for biopics of anyone, I applaud Mr. Roehler for his courage as illustrating anyone’s persona, especially one shrouded in fables and controversy, is a high mountain to climb. If you enjoy a biography that may have some basis in fact but not truth in its entirety and are just in it for the annihilation of an artist and the curiosity of how it all went wrong to a degree, then view this cinematic offering.
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