‘Enfant Terrible’ Review: I Can Sleep When I’m Dead

The packed biographical film “Enfant Terrible” races to keep up with the blazing life of the filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

By Nicolas Rapold

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Oskar Roehler’s “Enfant Terrible” runs through an impressively packed compendium of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s life and works — the brilliance, the sadism, the compassion and the leopard-print suiting.

Roehler begins with Fassbinder upending Munich’s Action Theatre in his early 20s, and his fearless artistic talent suggests a force of nature unleashed upon an unsuspecting world. An account of milestones from the director’s 40-plus features follows, from “Love Is Colder Than Death” to the Cannes breakthrough of “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul” to the narcotic dream of “Querelle.” He holds rapt a circle of collaborators and lovers, but his sadistic habits and drug jags (he died in 1982 at 37) made it like being friends with a tornado.

Famous Fassbinder players include the actor Kurt Raab (Hary Prinz), and El Hedi ben Salem (Erdal Yildiz), the male lead of “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul” and a lover; not all appear by name (Frida-Lovisa Hamann’s rising star, “Martha,” seems to be Hanna Schygulla). Oliver Masucci (“Dark”) presides as the slovenly genius himself, and I like him when he’s screaming and copulating but I still wanted more. (Fanboy quibble: the actor flaunts a potbelly but he’s nearly half a foot taller than Fassbinder.)

Roehler shoots “Enfant Terrible” on stage-like studio sets, working through certain stylistic elements from certain Fassbinder films. The look adds to an affectionate tribute that’s more than a Hollywood-style “greatest hits,” partly just because of Fassbinder’s loving embrace of queer and working-class experience. But the film feels both hermetic and declarative, and it’s folly to constantly remind a viewer of Fassbinder’s impossible-to-replicate alchemy of color, lighting, angles and passion.

Enfant Terrible
Not rated. In German, French and English, with subtitles. Running time: 2 hour 14 minutes. In select theaters and on virtual cinemas. Please consult the guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before watching movies inside theaters.

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