Review: Enfant Terrible

Directed by Oskar Roehler and written by Klaus Richter, an exploration into the life and the impact of iconic German New Wave director, Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Starring: Oliver Masucci, Hary Prinz, Katja Riemann, Felix Hellmann, Anton Rattinger, Erdal Yildiz, Markus Hering and Michael Klammer.

There are a few things that become abundantly clear very quickly with this film, firstly that their style has gone all in on paying homage to classic cinema, Fassbinder was the typical self-obsessed dictator of a director and there’s no real positive message or happy ending in sight. All of those things working in tandem creates mixed results, using painted backdrops and very old-fashioned style sets works surprisingly well. There’s a great infusion of colour to the direction which matches the story’s seedy nature, it has a slight theatricality about it and is unexpectedly easy to adjust to, creating a very inward focused drama that takes away any distractions. The direction is quite possibly the strongest aspect it has going for it, in emulating Fassbinder you can even see the attempts to pay heed to those who influenced him like Godard and Welles.

Coming in a close second would be the performances because it’s undeniably apparent that Fassbinder was a terrible person and Masucci brings that to life in a raw, almost uncomfortable way. It’s an intense portrayal, a cycle of using others for his own gain and then becoming distraught when they leave him because of how terribly he treats people. It’s almost akin to the type of performance you’d expect to see from an actor like Daniel Day Lewis, although here’s hoping Masucci didn’t go method for this role because that would have been an unpleasant experience for everyone involved. It’s hard to single out any others in the rest of the cast because it’s a very strong ensemble, the way Fassbinder treated his collaborators and lovers means that they all have to bring a lot of emotion, it’s a very turbulent film and everyone works together easily to pull that off.

The biggest questions that are raised about this film without doubt come from the story, initially it’s why spend so much time and money making it when it’s putting focus on a tyrannical, drug addicted, abusive man? A question that the answer of which is never really found. There are also attempts to frame things in such a way to add romance or sympathy but they’re much too late in the game to overwrite the persona that’s been built up until then. It’s a very sleazy, sordid story and that will work better for some than others. It moves a little bit slower than it could have and you do start to lose count of how many men he’s taken as a husband, taken everything they have to give then ditched them when he got bored. There is still however something about it that keeps pulling you back in, it has an intense sadness and there’s a continuous digging to find out if he becomes self aware of his behaviour. It doesn’t negate the issues with the story and reasons for telling it but it does create some form of unusual balance.

Enfant Terrible is a strong homage to Fassbinder, capturing the essence of 60s and 70s cinema in a unique way but it also re-iterates how much of an egomaniac he was and raises the question of whether his story is one that deserves to be told. There’s an undefinable quality to this film that keeps you plugged into the story even while questioning its intentions, which is actually quite impressive. Oliver Massuci’s performance is a memorable tapping into the tyrannical and abusive qualities of the filmmaker and Roehler creates a definitive style that makes a strong impression.

Verdict: ✯✯✯

Reviewed as part of BFI Flare – Available to watch on BFI Player from 17th to 28th March where you can also catch their Fassbinder collection

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