Directed by: #OskarRoehler
Written by: #KlauswRichter
‘Every man kills the thing he loves’. Oscar Wilde’s quote seems so apt for the life of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, it’s as if Wilde wrote the words especially for the director; not only did the German maverick make use of Wilde’s words in his film Querelle (1982) but the phrase acts as an epigraph at the start of Oskar Roehler’s new film Enfant Terrible. The biopic does more than simply recollect the prolific career of Fassbinder, it also resuscitates the director’s style, attitude, and crazy sensibility. Much like a Fassbinder movie, Roehler’s film plays out like events filtered through memory, through fantasy - reality transformed into a dream of neon colour and fluid space. Bringing the director’s masochism to the forefront, Roehler’s film is no rose-coloured insight, rather it pays tribute to Fassbinder by being true to him in his entirety - a man whose monstrosity and creativity went hand in hand.
Fassbinder is no easy part to play, but Oliver Masucci makes for a brilliant Fassbinder - proud, obsessive, ambitious, with a touch of the pathetic. At times he slips into the role seamlessly, and at other times, one can’t help but feel aware that he’s an actor playing Fassbinder. This is part of Masucci’s beauty in the role. Fassbinder himself was so playful with his self-image, so willing to sometimes push himself into caricature, that noting Masucci as an impersonator as well as an actor makes the performance all the stronger. When Fassbinder has a photoshoot with Andy Warhol (played by Alexander Scheer, one of the most convincing Warhols to date), Scheer’s performance is so parodic that it frames Masucci’s Fassbinder as equally, deliciously performative. And Roehler has moulded each performance to fit into the self-contained world of Rainer Fassbinder. Extras stand around like dummies or mannequins, stiff and wooden reproductions of people uncanny to those in Fassbinder’s films. Even shopfronts and restaurants are built out of cardboard, flagrantly fake and stage-like. More than just a reflection of Fassbinder’s life, Roehler and the talented actors involved here have reproduced it ingeniously.
Enfant Terrible is somewhat reminiscent of John Maybury's Love is the Devil (1998), a biopic on the painter Francis Bacon. Like Bacon, Fassbinder is monstrous without being turned into a monster. Love and cruelty and art become inseparable for these manipulative men who hate being codependent yet relish making others dependent on them. Shifting between director and dictator (noteworthy that Roehler picked a leading man who has also played Adolf Hitler on screen), Fassbinder is depicted as callous, masochistic and spiteful. And at the same time, mopey, needy, relying on work to foster relationships he’s unwilling to nourish. Roehler’s film highlights the vanity of the director as well as his commitment to the craft. Some of Fassbinder’s great characters become interchangeable with Fassbinder himself, drawing attention to the elements of emotional autobiography in the director’s canon: Masucci sometimes becomes Petra Von Kant, sometimes Emmi, sometimes Lou Castel’s Jeff. What better way to represent and refract such a multifarious personality?
But given the vastness of Fassbinder’s career (despite only living until thirty-seven), Roehler’s film may have been more evocative had he focused on a portion of the director’s life, rather than try and contain all of it in just over two hours. Fassbinder’s romances feel especially rushed and unsubtle; taking one romance to pick apart may have revealed more about the inner workings of Fassbinder than trying to chart his erratic relation to all the men in his life. Nonetheless, Enfant Terrible is a treat of a tribute, screening in the BFI Flare Film Festival. It’s especially poignant when you no longer watch it a biopic, but a tender film about young, dreaming artists who are living in the shadow of a fatal destiny.