Enfant Terrible opens with Fassbinder (Oliver Masucci), at 22-years-old (or so), having just washed out of film school for the second time. So, through sheer force of will, he takes over the Munich Action Theatre’s latest production, turning everything from the blocking to audience interaction on its head. At a bar he frequents, Fassbinder meets Salem (Erdal Yildiz), and the two become lovers, with Salem getting cast in the filmmaker’s latest production. While being with Salem, Fassbinder is still sleeping with others, which causes great jealousy in him.
All the while, the director is making film after film, usually some three to five in a year. To keep up this pace, he starts abusing just about everything drug one can imagine. He meets more people at bars, finds success, and uses more drugs while lashing out at everyone near him, as they aren’t as supportive of his ideas as he thinks they should be.
Director Oskar Roehler and screenwriter Klaus Ritcher don’t seem to like Rainer Werner Fassbinder very much. By all accounts, he was an angry, petulant artist, exacting the ire of his lovers and cast/crew. So, the filmmakers seem to be true to life, but they never try to understand him either. One does not need to like a person to empathize with and recognize what drives them. But, Roehler and Ritcher are not interested in any of that; instead, they prefer a highlight reel of Fassbinder’s bohemian lifestyle, with little regard for audience members who are not familiar with his life or works.
“…a highlight reel of Fassbinder’s bohemian lifestyle…”
As such, Enfant Terrible is hard to get behind. It is scene after scene of Fassbinder yelling at the hanger-ons who wish to continue working by his side, sleeping with him, or both. What engenders such loyalty from these people? Who knows? As depicted here, the filmmaker is a brash, angry man with little respect or regard for others. And because the film focuses so singularly on his perspective, the accolades they gain from appearing in his productions are never given credence. This makes it seem like everyone in his orbit is a glutton for punishment, and, without understanding what drives Fassbinder to act this way, there’s little to latch onto in terms of an emotional arc.
With all that being said, there is plenty to appreciate and like about the film. Despite Masucci being some 15 years older than Fassbinder at the time of his death (37 versus 52) and looking every bit of it — which causes timespan issues as the jump in years is confusing — he delivers a commanding performance. Yes, the character is written as all bombast and posturing, but the actor makes the most of it, chewing scenery in a way that works for the style very well.
Plus, Roehler directs Enfant Terrible to emulate Fassbinder’s style. Now, this doesn’t always work, as some action is too hard to see, or it creates a feeling of detachedness to what should be harrowing moments, i.e., when immigration officers come to arrest Salem. But the set design intentionally makes things look as if on a stage, with the exterior of buildings being made of wood and paint. This works rather well, and the lighting and cinematography are truly sumptuous, accentuating every scene’s emotions, even if the characters feel that way is confusing.
Enfant Terrible is for diehard Rainer Werner Fassbinder fans who wish to see some moments of his life splashed across the screen. The lack of empathy or delving into what made the director tick might frustrate all others. However, the strong cast, lead by a rabidly intense Masucci and solid directing outweighs the all-over-the-map screenplay to make the film worthy of watching once.
"…the lighting and cinematography are truly sumptuous..."