Director Christian Braad Thomsen is a known name in the world of film studies. Having written several books about a variety of subjects, he now brings an intimate portrait of his personal friend Rainer W. Fassbinder, the enfant terrible of post-war German cinema to the screen.
Centered mostly around an infamous and previously unseen interview with Fassbinder in his Cannes hotel room during the 70s, Fassbinder: to love without demands does not shy away from the director’s controversy, whether it’s his avant garde beginnings, his multiple lovers of both sexes, or his peculiar attitude towards relationships, incest and drugs. It is, without a doubt, a documentary for those who have seen and loved his films, and Thomsen’s attitude when speaking about his German friend is nothing short of deification. From Fassbinder’s peculiar familiar beginnings to his sudden death, Thomsen goes as quickly as possible through the impressive 12 year career that comprises 60 films, focusing mainly on the director’s artistic beliefs and life philosophies.
As an interview-based documentary with an almost 2 hour runtime, Fassbinder: to love without demands gives us a complex portrait of the controversial director simply by using his own words, as well as those of his friends and lovers. “To be complete, you must double yourself,” he said in interview shortly before he died, so don’t expect coherence, even when the parts are united by Thomsen’s own interpretation of Fassbinder’s attitudes.
Slow and dense, the film at points feels overbearing, particularly after the one hour mark, when death starts peeking around the corner. The strength of the Cannes interview unfortunately dilutes, as Fassbinder, “tired” (though more likely drunk or strongly drugged) goes into metaphysical rambles about cinema and love. Actually, the two more intense moments come from other sources – actress and former lover Irm Hermann telling, very matter-of-factly, how she failed in her suicide attempt, and actor Harry Bär describing his last phone call with the director, a few hours before he was found dead. The documentary’s abrupt ending feels thus like a cold water bucket, as we are left exhausted and soaked in complex ideas.
It is a tough cookie to digest, even for unconditional Fassbinder fans, but Thomsen’s insights into the mind of his late friend are unrivalled by any documentary about a film director. It has its flaws – one can’t stop but wonder how much credence can we give to Thomsen’s voice over “facts” on someone else’s state of mind and thoughts – but for all that it’s worth, Fassbinder: to love without demands is a solid love letter to an underrated European cinema genius.
Fassbinder: to Love without demands doesn’t currently have an UK general release date. For up to date information, please check the film’s website: http://www.fassbindermovie.com/