Dir/scr/prod: Christian Braad Thomsen. Denmark. 2015. 109mins
Christian Braad Thomsen’s personal documentary about his friend Rainer Werner Fassbinder starts with black-and-white footage from the premiere of the director’s debut, Love Is Colder Than Death, at the 1969 Berlinale. The critics barrack: a ringing “It was shit!” can clearly be heard from the audience. But Fassbinder is unfazed: Berlin critics are provincial, he tells his interviewer.
Thomsen posits that Fassbinder’s over-riding drive as an adult and film-maker was to recreate that childhood freedom and brings his friend, with seventies long-collared shirts hanging open to the waist, back to sweaty life to expound on life, love, desire, and film-making.
By no means an complete portrait of Fassbinder – what single documentary could contain him? – To Love Without Demands is nonetheless hard to resist (although its clunky title certainly is). Sure to feature in festival sidebars and Fassbinder retrospectives where it will play particularly well to younger cineastes, this is an idiosyncratic hop around Fassbinder’s life by his Danish film historian friend Thomsen.
Furiously productive throughout his brief 37 years (“I thought I only existed while I was working”), Fassbinder was brought up in a “chaotic post-war commune” with disinterested parents. He turned his mother, Lilo, into the star of many of his films, and speaks happily here about the concept of incest – “it’s a major experience of my imagination”.
Thomsen posits that Fassbinder’s over-riding drive as an adult and film-maker was to recreate that childhood freedom and brings his friend, with seventies long-collared shirts hanging open to the waist, back to sweaty life to expound on life, love, desire, and film-making. And can Fassbinder talk! Yet the prism of time, and the completely vanished period of German politics which shaped him, only serves to make Fassbinder more elusively fascinating than ever.
Then, of course, there’s the director’s gang, Dir/scr/prod: Christian Braad Thomsen. Denmark. 2015. 109minsthe intense and wildly dysfunctional commune of actors, actresses, and crew – the anti-theatre gang - who surrounded him, their ranks expanded by his lovers and hangers on. Fassbinder was a gay man who also needed to be with women, to whom he was often cruel. “They were wild times,” recalls Irm Hermann, the former secretary he cast in his films and who was tortured by Fassbinder for many years. Now a matronly houswife with a bouffant orange perm, she recalls her suicide attempt and the “intense and excessive relationships” which went on at the time.
Divided into seven chapters, ending in Death – from an overdose of cocaine and barbituates – To Love Without Demands features lengthy and previously unseen interview footage shot by Thomsen. There are obvious reasons for this, in particular with an extensive Cannes hotel room interview: the sound is poor and Fassbinder is a peculiar combination of semi-comatose and manically verbose. Ice cubes clink in his glass as he expounds - languidly yet without catching breath. Some trims to this footage in particular seem advisable.
Production company/international sales: Kollektiv Film, email@example.com
Cinematogaphy: Bente Petersen
Editor: Grete Meoldrup
Music: Peer Raben
With: Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Irm Hermann, Harry Baer, Andrea Schober, Lilo Pemplit, Margit Carstensen