‘Only your feelings count.’
Rainer Werner Fassbinder was, as the climax of Enfant Terrible terms him, one of Germany’s most creative and unrivalled post-war filmmakers. His life was one of struggle, of vices, and of rampant productivity, and Enfant Terrible captures this in a biopic that’s just as informative as it is artistically driven. Director Oskar Roehler’s profile of Fassbinder is an ode to his singular vision, yet also a lament of the behaviour and traits that contributed to his downfall.
Oliver Masucci (best known for Netflix’s Dark) plays Fassbinder with panache: a scintillating and all-absorbing lead performance that leaves you feeling every inch of his pain, but loathing each and every one of his abusive outbursts. The film opens with his career as a theatre actor with dreams of directing a film – with scenes showing him working on Colder than Death – before spanning his two-decade tenure as Germany’s most outgoing filmmaker. Roehler pulls no punches in showing how toxic the atmosphere around his productions were, with verbal trades, manipulative lies and sheer sadism at times, which positions the director’s stance on Fassbinder as a subject in a unique position.
Enfant Terrible is by no means a paean to Fassbinder – the destructive nature of his behaviour is made painfully clear through Klaus Richter’s script – but toes the line between acknowledgement of flaws and recognition of his vibrant filmmaking. It’s impossible not to feel for him on some level: He’s clearly desperately lonely, craving affection but pushing it away when it arrives, but the way he uses people is deplorable, and Roehler makes that clear. It’s rare that a biopic explores its subject with such rigour, and that level of exploration, as well as dazzling, theatre-like aesthetics, put Enfant Terrible a step above its contemporaries.
Often a biopic is there to win over new fans – take something like the reaction to Bohemian Rhapsody – but this film instead unpicks the human psyche, warts and all, to make for a film that’s at times overbearing, but more often than not fascinating. Fassbinder is a character that nobody will ever truly understand, and Enfant Terrible doesn’t even want you to: he was a man very much unlike the rest of us, for good and bad, and that’s where its message soars.