'Fassbinder': Film Review

Courtesy of Kino! Fest
An always-engaging look at an intimidating subject.

Close collaborators recall the wunderkind who blazed through their lives.

Annekatrin Hendel's Fassbinder is hardly the first doc tackling the life and career of the short-lived, astonishingly prolific German auteur. But given the breadth of his filmography and the chaos of his personal life, there's plenty of story here for documentaries to tell, ranging from the dry and narrowly focused My Name is Not Ali to last year's Fassbinder: To Love Without Demands. Though it covers some of the same ground as the latter doc, Hendel's outing offers style, insight and plenty of candid talk from close collaborators. It will be welcomed at fests and on video by those hoping to make sense of this singular artist.

Hendel gives ample screen time to the actors who, as part of Fassbinder's motley gang of collaborators, tended to fill multiple crew roles in addition to their front-of-camera responsibilities. Actress Hanna Schygulla offers as good an assessment of his strange, contradictory charisma as anyone here: When she first met him, she recalls, "I noticed this boy ... both touching and intimidating ... both vulnerable and predatory, rapacious."

Irm Hermann (who lived with the director at one point) recalls that, despite the reputation he would later get for self-destructive intake, at the start of his career he would drink tea or Coke only — no alcohol, no drugs.

Instead of relying solely on collaborators, Hendel combs through Fassbinder's creative output to tell her story. Not only do scenes from his scores of films illustrate the details of various anecdotes, but themes from his childhood and his love life are echoed more broadly in the characters he creates. The eponymous star of The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, we're told, was simply a woman suffering her male creator's plight.

Hendel works in certain mandatory career landmarks — the boos that greeted the Berlinale debut of Love is Colder than Death; the world acclaim that followed 1979's The Marriage of Maria Braun. But Fassbinder could hardly cover the breadth of this intense artistic oeuvre unless it reached Berlin Alexanderplatz proportions. Instead it offers enough intimate perspective to sate longtime fans and enough of the big picture to keep from alienating newcomers.


Production companies: It Works Medien, Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation

Director-Screenwriter: Annekatrin Hendel

Producers: Annekatrin Hendel, Juliane Maria Lorenz, Maria Wischnewski

Director of photography: Martin Farkas

Editor: Jorg Hauschild

Composer: Flake

Venue: Kino!


In German and English

91 minutes