Enfant Terrible (2020)
Rainer Werner Fassbinder was one of the most prolific filmmakers of German cinema’s New Wave. Though Enfant Terrible manages to convey the quantity of an oeuvre that included 24 feature films in 13 years, it totally misses the mark addressing their quality. Granted, it appears that Fassbinder was a rather unpleasant chap, but this biopic fails to suggest an artist capable of creating some of the movement’s most celebrated films. Instead we are presented with a vain oaf whose gift for self-destruction uncomfortably correlates with a quote from his final film which Enfant Terrible uses as its opening salvo – “Each man kills the thing he loves”.
Not that Fassbinder is the only victim of his brutish behaviour. Many members of his stock company are subjected to his physical and mental abuse. Britta, an agent cum personal assistant and actress, is often humiliated by the director while Martha and Günther are both injured on set in his quest for realism. Worse fate awaits those with whom he becomes romantically involved, specifically regular cast members El Hedi ben Salem and Armin Meier.
Directed by Oskar Roehler, whose previous biopic Jew Suss: Rise and Fall also revealed a lack of restraint, Enfant Terrible opens on a barren stage and remains there for the duration of the film. Scene changes, when they occur, are expressed through the use of theatrical props and painted backdrops. Visits to gay bars are accompanied by rich purplish hues and automobiles remain stationary on the outskirts of the set. The acting is also pitched to the cheap seats, with Hary Prinz’s performance as Kurt Raab being particularly annoying.
Whether all this is an homage to the director’s work, or a consequence of COVID-19 restrictions, the result is not only distancing but off-putting. Perhaps Fassbinder aficionados will delight in stylistic references to his films. Having escaped this reviewer, the whole exercise came across as terribly infantile.
as Rainer Werner Fassbinder
as Kurt Raab
as Harry Baer
as El Hedi ben Salem
The character of Martha is based on Fassbinder regular, Hanna Schygulla.
Within the strictures of its’ theatrical setting, biopic fleetingly recreates scenes (in a fashion) from Love Is Colder Than Death, Whity, Fear Eats the Soul, Germany in Autumn, In a Year of 13 Moons and Veronika Voss.