BFI Flare 2021 ‘Enfant Terrible’ Review: What is Art Worth?

Following the drama of the short life of film director Rainer Werner Fassbinder (Oliver Masucci). Charting his furious rise from outcast film director to renowned provocateur, the film explores the volatile man at the heart of the constant scandal. We witness his tumultuous love life, abusive working methods and, most of all, his rage whether personal, political or cinematic.

The eccentricity of the character of Fassbinder is reminiscent of all the most memorable cinematic renegades. His approach to interviews recalls Von Trier and Refn. It’s a false front of bravado that hides deep insecurities and fear. Interestingly, his art only advances once he embraces that fear, overcomes his ego (however briefly) and actually connects with the people around him.

The man himself is portrayed warts and all as he both inspires and terrorises his cast. He is at turns brilliantly subversive in his work and other times senselessly stubborn. He resembles a cult leader in some of his methods, stripping his cast and crew of even their names. Yet he is also compassionate to the lost, though contemptuous of the innocent. Masucci is perfectly magnetic as Fassbinder, alternating from endearing tragic and frighteningly volatile.

The film is presented in the style of one of Fassbinder’s stranger works. Every location is clearly a stage with striking red and blue lighting. Backgrounds are crudely painted murals erected in the same place filling in for bars, barns, and even the cannes film festival. Its impossible to tell his real life from the filming locations because it’s all performative for Fassbinder. He must be the fascist in his personal life as well as his art, simply because he wants the two to be one.

Fassbinder was an odd genius. Both genius and madman, liberal and fascist, homosexual and homophobia. Though originally a Godard clone, he discovered his own distinct style that is as important today as it was hard to swallow at the time. The film captures these disparate traits well. A familiarity with Fassbinders films is beneficial as there are many references but the film is more about power and the real cost of the abusive auteur. Whether this is authentic to the man himself is of course unclear, but its authentic to the man’s Work and legacy. It feels like Fassbinder directed by Fassbinder, and that’s no mean feat.

Four Stars

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