Monday, July 22, 2024

The life of queer Berlin filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder is now a movie

The brilliant new biopic Enfant Terrible is now screening in select theaters.

Enfant Terrible, the story of iconic German New Wave director Rainer Werner Fassbinder from Dark Star Pictures, is now showing in select theaters. From director Oskar Roehler, and starring Oliver Masucci, Hary Prinz, Katja Riemann, and Felix Hellmann, Enfant Terrible had its world premiere at the 2020 Cannes Film Festival. This biographical drama is directed with great flair and an unsparing eye for its subject, the “bad boy” of the iridescent, irreverent, iconoclastic German New Wave that thrived in the underground, after-dark world of Berlin — a kind of grubby renaissance sandwiched between the reconstruction that followed the disgraced nation’s devastating role in World War II and the liberating fall of the Berlin Wall.

Oliver Masucci as gay German film director Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Oliver Masucci is terrifically convincing as Fassbinder, right down to the tangled handlebar mustache and the pot belly. Part leather daddy, part bear, all auteur, Fassbinder cut his teeth (permanently clenched on a cigarette) on Berlin avant garde theater. Then he moved into cinema so he could communicate a greater range of human experience, influenced by the likes of Brechtian Jean-Luc Godard — except Fassbinder was unapologetically gay and had no hesitation picking up his next leading man in a back alley or gay bar, impossible as it was for him to separate art and sex as he lived and breathed both in every moment.

Brutish and masculine he arguably outdid Andy Warhol in the artistic appropriation of homoeroticism, but they shared similar creative principles, including ad hoc salons full of tarnished muses. When they meet, Fassbinder confides: “I go where it hurts.” Warhol responds, mystified: “Why would you go where it hurts?” It’s a very good question and I wonder if the film answers it.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Hanna Schygulla | Photo: Gorup de Besanez

My favorite Fassbinder film is The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant, a 1972 feature based on his own play. For a gay man he sure did know his way around fashionista lesbians, and it was my introduction to one of his muses, Hanna Schygulla, with whom he had a tempestuous, almost abusive artistic association for 15 years (but who is mysteriously excised from this film). Enfant Terrible does not shy away from depicting Fassbinder’s mistreatment of the feminine, whether it’s backhanding an actress across the face in an improv, arguing with his mother, or psychologically tormenting a masochistic transgender woman.

Herr Filmdirektor was a curious combination of sadist and empath, endlessly fascinated by the self-flagellating outsider figure whether queer, immigrant, or criminal — what they did to survive while they burned brightly and briefly at the margins of society. Fassbinder was one of them and when he burned out — cocaine and romantic dysfunction did not help — he took his own life.

What was his legacy? Fassbinder tried to overturn the image of Germany as cold, controlling and calculated with the emotional anarchy, blood, sweat, and euphoria of a gay bar’s back room in a Berlin backstreet. His films have influenced Martin Scorsese, Pedro Almodovar, Francois Ozon, and Wong Kar-wai to name a few. Parasite director Bong Joon-ho is also a fan.

Enfant Terrible mostly focuses on the artist’s early years and the inevitable entropy that his work ethic evoked. It is interesting to note that Fassbinder died on June 10, 1982, approximately one year after the first suspected case of AIDS was reported by Californian health-care providers to the CDC. It’s unlikely he was aware of that but it was, all the same, the end of an era.


Laemmle NoHo (Playing Now, Physical)
Laemmle Virtual (5/14, NY & CA) – 
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Tivoli @ Nelson Atkins Virtual (5/14, MO)  
Frida Cinema Virtual (5/14, CA)   
VIFF Film Center Virtual (5/14, Vancouver BC)
Cleveland Cinematheque Virtual (5/14, OH)
FilmOut San Diego Virtual (5/20, CA)
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Zeitgeist Film Center Physical (5/28, New Orleans)   
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Merryn Johns

Merryn Johns is the Editor-in-Chief of Queer Forty. She is an award-winning journalist, as well as a broadcaster and public speaker. Originally from Sydney, Australia where she began her career in journalism in the 1990s, she is based in New York City where she became the editor-in-chief of Curve Magazine and wrote for a variety of publications including Vanity Fair, Vogue, Slate, and more. Follow on Twitter at @Merryn1

Merryn Johns has 141 posts and counting. See all posts by Merryn Johns

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