BFI Flare Festival 2021: Enfant Terrible

Another biopic that I wanted to catch at BFI Flare was Enfant Terrible. Following filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s rise as an auteur and his struggle with addiction was never going to be the most comfortable watch. Directed by Oskar Roehler from a script written by Klaus Richter, Enfant Terrible stars Oliver Masucci as Fassbinder in a biopic that follows the usual linear structure as expected from the genre whilst also adding in techniques inspired by the film’s subjects. Fassbinder has garnered a reputation for his abrupt approach to filmmaking, often breaking the rules and ignoring the advice of those who prefer traditional filmmaking. Trained in theatre directing before films, we see how this theatrical backstory feeds into his creative process and the end result is a film that wouldn’t look out of place in Fassbinder’s own filmography.

Roehler’s directorial approach seems to be inspired by Fassbinder’s theatre background. Since it is a biopic, it is character driven and therefore the stage like direction works really well. Just as Fassbinder was known for his highly intense filmmaking techniques, Roehler applies this. Although Fassbinder is a highly celebrated filmmaker in terms of his output, it was no secret that he had a fair share of problems and was known for his turbulent relationships and unpredictable behaviour. This unpredictability is what drives the film, even though it is a biopic and you can research what happens in his life previously. Roehler allows us to see the many sides to Fassbinder from his moments of inspiration to the darker moments of abuse and addiction. We are not expected to like Fassbinder at the end of it but to see how his creative process worked and the positive and negative impacts it had on the people around him.

Klaus Richter’s script follows the usual biopic formula and spans Fassbinder as an aspiring filmmaker all the way through to his death from a drug overdose at the age of 36. Although there are segments of the film that explore Fassbinder on set as he is making his films, the main focus is around the man himself and how he acts away from the character. Showing his volatile side, we are introduced to his stubborn and abusive nature from the outset as his unorthodox methods make everyone around him uncomfortable. Whereas a lot of biopics like to showcase the positive achievements of their subject, Enfant Terrible shines a more critical view of Fassbinder, especially as the success begins to feed his ego. It does seem a bit unbalanced at times as you question why his friends and entourage stay with him when there are very few moments of vulnerability or kindness.

Masucci’s performance as Fassbinder is insanely good. When playing a person like Fassbinder, you have to push the boundaries and Masucci does this with ease. He is no stranger to playing controversial characters as he is best known for playing Adolf Hitler in the 2015 satire Look Who’s Back so becoming such a large character like Fassbinder is the perfect challenge for him. His performance is heavily layered as we don’t fully understand why Fassbinder makes the choices he makes initially but as the film unfolds and the director begins to find fame and success, we begin to see his emotions rise to the surface. It is almost as if Fassbinder becomes aware of his own mortality and his limitations. Initially set on becoming a successful film director, his personal life soon overrides his career and it’s difficult for the world to differentiate the artist from the art.

The production design by director Oskar Roehler is clearly inspired by stage plays in construction. Considering the subject and the dark topics explored, it makes for a brilliant contrast and makes the film beautiful to look at. The expressionist colouring sets the atmosphere and can make the scenes even more intense. Roehler makes the most of the space involved in his scenes and the production design feeds into this as the scenes can run for longer periods of time.

Overall, Enfant Terrible is a film that focuses on the artist rather than the art. Fassbinder’s controversial behaviour probably isn’t surprising to most film fans who are aware of the background but Masucci’s strong performance is hard to ignore. Chronicling Fassbinder’s rise to fame and ultimate death, we get a glimpse into how success can afflict someone positively and negatively. As the filmmaker becomes more successful, his films are widely acclaimed but his demons get the best of him. Avid Fassbinder fans may not learn anything new from this biopic but it is a great film to watch for its interesting direction and strong leading performance.

Enfant Terrible is showing at BFI Flare Festival.

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