At one point, late in in ENFANT TERRIBLE, the titular character of this bio-pic, omnisexual filmmaker and agent provacateur of the German New Wave, Rainer Werner Fassbinder (Oliver Masucci), calls himself an uber-pig. It’s part boast, part confession, and part apology. As seen in Oskar Roehler’s stunningly oneiric film, they are all consistent with the enigma that was Fassbinder, who could casually put a cigarette on the arm of an actor, and also cry like a baby in his lover’s arms.
All the contradictory elements are here in Masucci’s intense and terrifying performance, and by keeping all the action not only indoors, but also on sets that are purposefully artificial, there is a sense that we are watching Fassbender’s life pass before his eyes as he died at only 37. Burned out by making 41 films in 13 years (including the sprawling mini-series BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ), or by living voraciously using up his own lifeforce the way he did those around him? Perhaps both.
We start just before Fassbender makes his first feature film. Already an established playwright, he is in rehearsals as two actors diss him from the sidelines about his lack of education, and the way that he intimidates them. Fassbender, already sporting the iconic leather jacket and sunglasses, disses right back blowing cigarette smoke into the face of one of them before asking him to be in his first film, LOVE IS COLDER THAN DEATH. The fact that it this cinematically subversive work was subsequently booed at the Berlin Film Festival was merely a spur for Fassbender, and a chance to tell off the press when he had reached the pinnacle of his career.
This is a tale told chronologically if episodically, with Fassbender dressing down his first cameraman for having the effrontery to ask where to put the camera, finding true love in a Parisian back alley for the price of 200 francs, and demonstrating that while the price of expensive film stock is set in stone that of human flesh is all too negotiable. Roehler bathes his film in carnival colors of red and blue, the hues oversaturated in homage to Douglas Sirk, one of Fassbender’s idols, as well as mimicking the frenzy of Fassbender’s insatiable drive to film virtually non-stop for those 13 years, fueled by the drugs that would eventually kill him, and by and the co-dependency of those around him.
ENFANT TERRIBLE is more than a stylized but visceral recounting of the most notorious stories about Fassbender’s escapades, grotesquely fascinating though some are. While there are moments of divine absurdity as when a young man shyly askes Fassbender to autograph his photo after, ahem, servicing him, and of melodrama worthy of Sirk, Roehler makes plain that it was Fassbender’s inner inchoate pain that spurred the reckless behavior and that insatiable drive. He may have found ecstasy in making films, but in true tragic hero fashion, he never found peace.