BFI Flare 2021 Review: Rainer Werner Fassbinder Biopic ‘Enfant Terrible’

German biopic Enfant Terrible from director Oskar Roehler and writer Klaus Richter delves into the short yet prolific life of post-war filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Examining his journey from theatre to screen, his lives, loves and cohort of curious collaborators with a uniquely original aesthetic style and fearsome lead performance from Oliver Masucci, Enfant Terrible pays loving tribute to ferocious and radical filmmaker.

Opening in 1967 with Fassbinder gatecrashing the stage of Muchich’s Antitheater, the hot-headed young German is quick to gain a dedicated group of admirers who begin to form his artistic collaborators. With an episodic structure, Enfant Terrible goes on to document the prolific cinematic career of Fassbinder who amassed an incredible forty feature films through the his short career. Detailing his addictions and fearsome behaviour both on and off set, Richter’s biopic examines the filmmaker’s cruel and uncompromising approach to life and filmmaking through key moments in his life and career.

Oskar Roehler‘s direction is bold and hyper-stylised with hand painted backdrops, sets which feel like they’ve been propped up in an empty warehouse, and sets often shrouded in darkness with hazy neon glows lighting the proceedings. Echoing the visual structure of a play, Enfant Terrible has a unique stylistic clout which further asserts the erratic, unconventional manner of Fassbinder’s life both on and off set. This staging is particularly effective as it dips into Fassbinder’s hedonistic tendencies – with homages to Fassbinder’s Querelle felt in scenes of shadowy men stood in doorways of neon-lit gay clubs, high-energy disco scenes, and the use of the powerful relevant quote “Each man kills the things he loves,” particularly as Fassbinder continually destroys his fast-paced relationships.

Whilst documenting the production of Fassbinder’s features, Enfant Terrible delves into his provocative, uncontrollable demeanour with the film’s title defiantly shining through. From the abusive relationships with his fawning troupe of regular performers and collaborators including the sexually manipulated colleagues Günther (Michael Klammer) and Britta (Anton Rattinger) to his lovers Salem (Erdal Yildiz) and Armin (Jochen Schropp), the feature tackles his brutal, unflinching and manipulative manner. Yet these collaborators and lovers feel a commitment to this mad genius, something channelled in Oliver Masucci’s magnetic lead performance – the actor embodies Fassbinder from the filmmaker’s physicality to his fiery temperament capturing a sense of his frustrated and pained genius. Hard hitting scenes including the abuse of Günther on the set of KKK drama Whity to vegetarian Britta forced to eat a steak for Fassbinder to sleep with him. These supporting performances – notably Markus Hering as collaborator Peer Raben and Rattinger’s Britta are laced with a well-pitched camp which furthers the manic, hedonistic and theatrical tone of the film.

Enfant Terrible parallels Fassbinder’s prolific cinematic output with his spiralling personal crises. The downfall of his relationship with mysterious Salim and fawning Armin, both driven away by his abusive behaviour and spiralling addictions, unfold alongside his fastidious work ethic. At the mercy of his addictions, Enfant Terrible examines Fassbinder’s journey into hedonism from encounters in Parisian gay clubs, his embracing of the leather scene, his predilection for cocaine, and meeting with Andy Warhol in New York all examined, giving an insight into the personal encounters which played out in the background of his cinematic career. Masucci’s performance embodies Fassbinder in a transformative warts and all portrayal from the belly bursting out of his polo-shirts to the sweaty, impulsive, drug-fuelled demeanour of the troubled creative genius. Masucci’s well textured turn drip-feeds quiet moments of vulnerability and humanity into his portrayal of Fassbinder such as his unravelling after the death of Salim.

Enfant Terrible is a bold and unflinching biopic of a true cinematic titan. Delving into the hedonistic and unrelenting lifestyle of the filmmaker in both a personal and professional context with a fiery aesthetic identity and staggering transformative turn from Oliver Masucci, Enfant Terrible is the commanding biopic that Fassbinder would have wanted for himself.

Enfant Terrible plays as part of the BFI Flare Film Festival 2021. Get tickets here.