Thursday, May 20, 2021

Enfant Terrible: Rainer Werner Fassbinder at his Most Scandalous

West German filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder has yet to get the credit he deserves for predating and in some ways surpassing the Matrix films, way back in 1973 with his TV miniseries, World on a Wire. This film will not make that case either. Instead, it revels in Fassbinder’s well-documented hedonism and excesses. Does it ever. Yet, in doing so, director Oskar Roehler gives Fassbinder a rather Fassbinderesque depiction in Enfant Terrible, which expands to more cities this week.

Before he was a legend, Fassbinder was a film school drop-out with an insanely high opinion of his talents. Fortunately for him, his pining agent “Britta,” presumably a composite of male and female lovers, shared his confidence and wanted to share more. Instead, Fassbinder just used his early patron, like he uses everyone else.

Eventually, Fassbinder’s in-your-face provocation developed into international celebrity. We see him churn out dozens of low-budget, sexually-charged films, but each one is an exhausting struggle due to Fassbinder’s abusive and undisciplined working methods. Along the way, he engages in numerous sexual relationships that are way more exploitative than any conventional commercial arrangement in the West German capitalist system he often rails against.

Honestly, there are scenes in
Enfant that are difficult to watch, but they are certainly true to what cineastes have probably heard about the subject. Frankly, after watching Enfant, most viewers will be grateful they never met the man. Oliver Masucci (also seen in this week’s When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit) commits to portray Fassbinder’s largely-than-life persona and hulking indulgence-ravaged body 200%, but it is always a drug and hormone-crazed physical performance. The man himself comes across as soulless and empty inside.

Ironically, the real stand-out is Hary Prinz as the ironically conservative-looking but sensitive Kurt Raab, Fassbinder’s longtime collaborator, who seems best equipped to surf the waves of his chaos, until the auteur finally pushes him away too. However, do not expect to find Ingrid Caven here. Those in Fassbinder’s circle that are still alive apparently received the
Dragnet treatment (names were changed to protect the innocent).

Enfant Terrible
is an exhausting film, but it definitely reflects Fassbinder’s unruly, hyper-sexualized aesthetics. Cinematographer Carl-Friedrich Koschnick makes it all look like an acid trip in a red-light district club, which is about right for the subject matter. However, will not entice many viewers to discover or revisit Fassbinder’s films—more likely the contrary. For those unfamiliar with the filmmaker, start with World on a Wire—and then get more adventurous as your comfort level allows. In many ways, Roehler’s film is impressive, but it is also just too much, in the same ways. Only recommended for Fassbinder fanatics, Enfant Terrible opens today (5/20) in San Diego and next Friday (5/28) in New Orleans.