Enfant Terrible follows the life of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, one of the defining names of the New German Cinema movement of the 1960s and 70s. With over fifty projects under his belt over a twenty year period before his death at the young age of thirty seven, Fassbinder certainly had an interesting life. One worthy of the biopic treatment, unconventional though it may be.
The phrase in which the film is titled after defines “a person who behaves in an unconventional or controversial way.” A perfect definition of the erratic Fassbinder. However, it is also the very reason why this film does not work. The biopic from Oskar Roehler nonchalantly meanders through Fassbinder’s career, presenting the life and loves of the celebrated filmmaker through an in-cohesive story that simply jumps from moment to moment in the most over the top, yet menial manner. Roehler directs the film with such little flare or impact that it portrays Fassbinder himself not as a brilliant director of his time, but as a talentless hack.
This inability to show the brilliance and beauty of Fassbinder’s work causes the viewer to question not only why this film was made, but even why we’re still watching the film. Rainer had his demons, yet a single viewing of Enfant Terrible is arguably more agonising than being in the presence of Fassbinder could ever be. Whereas most pictures create sympathy for such a character, or those who are directly affected by them — this does neither. Instead, the film constantly regresses Fassbinder’s character with each passing moment of its overindulgent runtime of two hours and fifteen minutes.
There are signs that the movie may be hinting at certain themes with subtle imagery. The film’s sets are presented as cheap painted backdrops; perhaps suggesting that Rainer’s persona was merely a facade. His obsession with terrorist attacks that happen throughout the film — such as the Munich Massacre — possibly pointing toward Fassbinder’s fear of death. However, these very themes are presented inconsistently enough that it is difficult to tell whether or not they mean anything. The life of Rainer Werner Fassbinder is a story that deserves to be told and his name deserves to be remembered. That being said, Enfant Terrible does more to drag Fassbinder’s name through the mud rather than celebrating a great filmmaker, in spite of his demons.
Dir: Oskar Roehler
Scr: Klaus Richter
Cast: Oliver Masucci, Hary Prinz, Katja Riemann, Jochen Schropp
DOP: Carl-Friedrich Koschnick
Runtime: 134 minutes
Enfant Terrible will screen as part of the 2021 BFI Flare Festival on March 17th 2021.