The forty plus films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder are among the most honest, ruthless and personal of any director. With near sadomasochistic force, Fassbinder dealt relentlessly with social problems and taboos that he encountered throughout his short 37 years, up until his untimely death in 1982.
In Fassbinder: To Love Without Demands Christian Braad Thomsen – a friend of Fassbinder – attempts to tell us more about the troubled German auteur, but this is a difficult task. In his films Fassbinder told us much about himself, and simultaneously he was a master critic: he was able to use drama to dissect, critique and examine his own nature and the wider social conditioning of German society. What might another filmmaker be able to tell us about Fassbinder that the man himself couldn’t?
The results of Thomsen’s film are mixed, but not without value. For those uninitiated in Fassbinder’s work, the film provides a solid introduction to the way in which RWF’s films dealt with human relationships as a web of oppression. Fassbinder saw love as a near fascistic form of dependency, whereby one weaker individual would be at the mercy of their stronger partner. Almost all of his films attest to this in some form, from the gay class drama Fox and his Friends to the disturbing Weimar era epic Berlin Alexanderplatz.
In newly uncovered interviews – shot by Thomsen at the Cannes Film Festival during the latter stages of Fassbinder’s life – the exhausted, workaholic director talks bluntly, but eloquently about his concerns and we gain a sense of the sadness that informed much of Fassbinder’s existence. This was a man who suffered for his art and – even at Cannes – there is very little glamour on show.
It is Thomsen’s own relationship with Fassbinder that is the most interesting aspect of To Love Without Demands, along with the recent insights of actress Irm Hermann and actor/production manager Harry Baer. The admiration of these individuals for RWF naturally shines through and although they have now aged into more mature perspectives (being almost double the age of Fassbinder when he died) it is clear that their former director continues to impress them with his talents and unique perspective on the world.
The documentary does feel, in some ways, rather old fashioned for a film released in 2015. Formally speaking, it is very much a film of the 1960’s, and its cultural benchmarks – such as Sigmund Freud – feel key to that time too. However, while the film may appear less accessible to the younger generation, the visceral energy of Fassbinder does remain and it is still as vital to cinema as ever.