Enfant Terrible – BFI Flare 2021

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Writers: Klaus Richter and Oskar Roehler

Director: Oskar Roehler

The Bitter Tears of Rainer Werner Fassbinder are examined in this biopic of the great German director, thrillingly looking like one of his own films. Beginning with the shooting of Fassbinder’s first film, Enfant Terrible charts the maverick director’s journey to fame and depicts his toxic relationship to drugs and alcohol. Mad, bad and dangerous to know, Fassbinder holds court like a despotic queen.

Everyone hates him, and yet everyone crowds around him, sensing that his rebellious approach to filmmaking will perhaps make them famous. Oliver Masucci resembles Fassbinder so much it’s uncanny, and even though he is an obnoxious character, we, like his courtiers, are hypnotised by him. He tortures and abuses his actors, who surprisingly stay with him for years. He tortures and abuses his audience too, and in an early scene, we see him spraying water over the people who have paid to see one of his early stage shows.

His casting strategies are particularly heinous, even more so after Harvey Weinstein, suggesting that actors will only get parts if they sleep with him. After sex, Fassbinder falls hopelessly in love with these men, beginning with Günther Kaufman (Michael Klammer, again, scarily similar) who approaches him for a part one night in a bar. When Fassbinder finds out that Kaufman is married with a baby on the way, he is especially cruel and even makes him perform his own stunts, dragged across the stage by a motorbike, in a weird film about the KKK.

But this stormy relationship pales in comparison with his next lover, Salem (a surly Erdal Yildiz), who he picks up in a bathhouse in Paris. Incredibly, the pair goes to Morocco to kidnap Salem’s children from his wife before they all return to Germany with Fassbinder holding script-readings while the kids shout and scream. Despite becoming a star after being the lead in Ali: Fear Eats The Soul, Fassbinder’s break-out film, Salem also battled with alcohol and Fassbinder’s outrageous behaviour.

With the focus on Fassbinder’s personal life, disappointingly there are only glimpses of his professional life directing films, TV shows and plays, although, of course, the private and public often merge together. His early films were based more on social realism, but his later films were camp and overwrought, and it is this later aesthetic that drives Enfant Terrible. Each scene is played for high drama and as a result everyone turns into a caricature, except for the women in his life who are decidedly quiet, in the same way that his marriage to a woman is never portrayed.

It’s a shame that these female characters have little to do. The most prominent woman in his clique of actors is Britta, who perhaps is a combination of his various spurned lovers such as Irm Hermann who won an award for her performance in The Merchant For Four Seasons. In Enfant Terrible director Oskar Roehler has a male actor play Britta, who yearns to sleep with Fassbinder despite his unending insults. Another obsequious disciple of the director is Kurt Raab, played with glee by Hary Prinz, who seems to be loving every minute.

But even with its one-sided look at Fassbinder’s life, Enfant Terrible goes a long way in capturing the spirit of the auteur’s oeuvre, right down to the cheap sets – scenery with windows and doors drawn on – and by filming everything in the same space Roehler claustrophobically suggests the closeness of Fassbinder and his entourage.

Fassbinder wanted to be in the same list of directors as Orson Welles, Douglas Sirk and Jean-Luc Godard, an ambition that was realised before his early death. We may never see their likes again, but Roehler, along with writer Klaus Richter, has created a film that pays homage to a filmmaker who was unafraid to break every rule.

BFI Flare here runs from 17 March until 28 March 2021

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Pays homage

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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