The life of queer Berlin filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder is now a movie

The brilliant new biopic Enfant Terrible is now screening in select theaters.

Enfant Terrible, the story of iconic German New Wave director Rainer Werner Fassbinder from Dark Star Pictures, is now showing in select theaters. From director Oskar Roehler, and starring Oliver Masucci, Hary Prinz, Katja Riemann, and Felix Hellmann, Enfant Terrible had its world premiere at the 2020 Cannes Film Festival. This biographical drama is directed with great flair and an unsparing eye for its subject, the “bad boy” of the iridescent, irreverent, iconoclastic German New Wave that thrived in the underground, after-dark world of Berlin — a kind of grubby renaissance sandwiched between the reconstruction that followed the disgraced nation’s devastating role in World War II and the liberating fall of the Berlin Wall.

Oliver Masucci as gay German film director Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Oliver Masucci is terrifically convincing as Fassbinder, right down to the tangled handlebar mustache and the pot belly. Part leather daddy, part bear, all auteur, Fassbinder cut his teeth (permanently clenched on a cigarette) on Berlin avant garde theater.

Then he moved into cinema so he could communicate a greater range of human experience, influenced by the likes of Brechtian Jean-Luc Godard — except Fassbinder was unapologetically gay and had no hesitation picking up his next leading man in a back alley or gay bar, impossible as it was for him to separate art and sex as he lived and breathed both in every moment. Brutish and masculine he arguably outdid Andy Warhol in the artistic appropriation of homoeroticism, but they shared similar creative principles, including ad hoc salons full of tarnished muses.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Hanna Schygulla | Photo: Gorup de Besanez

My favorite Fassbinder film is The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant, a 1972 feature based on his own play. For a gay man he sure did know his way around fashionista lesbians, and it was my introduction to one of his muses, Hanna Schygulla, with whom he had a tempestuous, almost abusive artistic association for 15 years. Enfant Terrible does not shy away from depicting Fassbinder’s mistreatment of the feminine, whether it’s backhanding an actress across the face in an improv or psychologically tormenting a masochistic transgender woman.

Herr Filmdirektor was a curious combination of sadist and empath, endlessly fascinated by the self-flagellating outsider figure whether queer, immigrant, or criminal — what they did to survive while they burned brightly and briefly at the margins of society. Fassbinder was one of them and when he burned out — drugs and unrequited love did not help — he took his own life.

What was his legacy? Fassbinder tried to overturn the image of Germany as cold, controlling and calculated with the emotional anarchy, blood, sweat, and euphoria of a gay bar’s back room in a Berlin backstreet. His films have influenced Martin Scorsese, Pedro Almodovar, Francois Ozon, and Wong Kar-wai to name a few. Parasite director Bong Joon-ho is also a fan.

Enfant Terrible focuses on the artist’s early years, but it is interesting to note that Fassbinder died on June 10, 1982, approximately one year after the first suspected case of AIDS was reported by Californian health-care providers to the CDC. It’s unlikely Fassbinder knew of that but it was, all the same, the end of an era.


Laemmle NoHo (Playing Now, Physical)
Laemmle Virtual (5/14, NY & CA) – 
Cinemapolis Virtual (5/14, NY)  
Tivoli @ Nelson Atkins Virtual (5/14, MO)  
Frida Cinema Virtual (5/14, CA)   
VIFF Film Center Virtual (5/14, Vancouver BC)
Cleveland Cinematheque Virtual (5/14, OH)
FilmOut San Diego Virtual (5/20, CA)
Berlin & Beyond San Francisco Virtual (5/25, CA)  
Zeitgeist Film Center Physical (5/28, New Orleans)   
Goethe Pop Up Seattle Virtual (6/23, WA)

This article was originally featured on our sister site, Queer Forty, and was written by Queer Forty Editor-in-Chief, Merryn Johns.

BWM Staff

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