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The Genius of Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Fassbinder, a film by Annekatrin Hendel was one of the highlights of the Kino! 2016 German Film Festival

Fassbinder Foundation

Foto: courtesy Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation

The bad boy of German filmmaking, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, was only 37 years old when he died in 1982. Yet he left behind a legacy of over 44 films and tv shows; and friends and colleagues who still remember his genius.

For fans of Fassbinder, Annekatrin Hendel’s film –  which premiered in the US during Kino! 2016 German Film Festival will be a revelation, an homage, and an

eye-opener.  It’s full of rare and intimate documentary footage of Rainer in his early days, with his insatiable need to create; and his then-scandalous lifestyle on full display. We also get a glimpse of the making of his first film, “Love is Colder than Death“, as well as the steely resolve it engenders in him when it‘s booed by audiences at the 1969 Berlin Film Festival. But it’s the interviews with his actors, colleagues, and lovers that really give this doc its heart. His aging leading ladies, including Margit Cartensen and the still lovely Hanna Schygulla, speak lovingly of Fassbinder’s many talents, as well as his obsession with filmmaking.  And even his rivals acknowledge his boldness, individuality, and unrivaled genius.

And if you speak and understand German, all the better. But I know no German, so I had a lot of trouble reading the subtitles and I sometimes felt like I was missing key moments.

But there is no denying Hendel’s talent or her dedication to Fassbinder and his work.  She has followed and been inspired by him since she was a teenager.  And, as she so eloquently put it, “No one before or after him was able to portray German society and the ambivalent history of this country as truthfully or as strongly as Rainer Werner Fassbinder”.

24 years after his death, his work still resonates.  His themes of emancipation, sexuality, and xenophobia are as relevant today as they were in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s.  And his films still play to full houses – The Marriage of Maria Braun, Effi Breist, Veronika Voss, to name just a few.  Even Berlin Alexanderplatz (his 14-part TV mini-series) can be found on Hulu. Fassbinder would have turned 71 this year.  One can only Imagine what he’d be creating now.

Fassbinder was never my favorite director; nor does this documentary change my mind. But the film is skillfully and lovingly crafted and well worth any cinephile’s time.

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