Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Born: 31 May 1945, Bad Wörishofen, Bav.
Died: 10 June 1982, Schwabing, Munich

Introduction

Dead by 37, openly bisexual, constantly controversial: Rainer Werner Fassbinder was arguably post-war Germany’s greatest filmmaker. A fearless artist who knew no taboos, he combined scathing social criticism with profound psychological insight.

After failing to get into film school he turned instead to the theatre, rapidly winning renown as a radical, innovative writer-director. With ferocious energy, though minimal resources, he started to make films, building a loyal team of actors and technicians drawn from the theatre (his first 10 features were made in less than two years).

An insatiable film addict from early childhood, Fassbinder drew inspiration from the French New Wave and, later, from the Hollywood melodramas of Douglas Sirk and others. But what emerged from his dazzling fusion of style and content was a powerful, personal vision of people imprisoned by social constraints and their own contradictory desires. Provocative, poignant, darkly witty: these are films that could change your life.

Fassbinder always dreamed of creating his own brand of ‘German Hollywood film’, and with The Marriage of Maria Braun (1978), he finally managed to combine huge popular appeal with a complex, uncompromising vision of reality. This was the first of three superbly crafted chronicles of the 1950s (the others were Lola and Veronika Voss) – antidotes to the prevailing historical amnesia.

By exploring the past, Fassbinder aimed to shed light on Germany’s troubled present; in other works, he engaged directly with the political turmoil and terrorism of the 1970s. ‘The secret of our success is that we’re making honest films,’ he once said, but his fierce integrity made him a target of vicious abuse.

Neither a polemicist nor an ideologue (he dubbed himself a ‘romantic anarchist’), Fassbinder remains an extraordinary artist whose passion for truth-telling is now more important than ever.

Highlighted works

  • WARNUNG VOR EINER HEILIGEN NUTTE

    Awaiting a shoot, the cast and crew of a film outdo one another in displays of professional and sexual rivalry.

  • IN EINEM JAHR MIT 13 MONDEN

    A lonely transsexual journeys through modern Frankfurt in this dark elegy for doomed love.

  • LOLA

    Fantastically vulgar update of The Blue Angel (1930) set in late 1950s West Germany.

  • GÖTTER DER PEST

    In this melancholy thriller, capitalism is the ‘plague’ and criminals are its ‘gods’.

  • ACHT STUNDEN SIND KEIN TAG

    Fassbinder’s controversial five-part TV soap opera.

  • ICH WILL DOCH NUR, DAß IHR MICH LIEBT

    Chilling drama based on a real-life interview with a convicted murderer.

  • WELT AM DRAHT

    Fassbinder’s two-part TV sci-fi anticipates both Blade Runner and The Matrix.

  • THEATER IN TRANCE

    This immersive documentary captures the 1981 World Theatre Festival in Cologne.

  • RIO DAS MORTES

    Hanna Schygulla plays a girl who wants to settle down, but her free-wheeling boyfriend has other ideas.

  • Die BITTEREN TRÄNEN DER PETRA VON KANT

    A brilliant all-female cast star in this visual and verbal extravaganza about a lonely fashion designer.

  • BOLWIESER

    Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s striking adaptation of Oskar Maria Graf’s novel about a small-town Bavarian stationmaster.

  • HÄNDLER DER VIER JAHRESZEITEN

    This heart-rending tale was Fassbinder’s first venture into popular melodrama.

  • DESPAIR

    Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s first film in English was brilliantly adapted by Tom Stoppard from Vladimir Nabokov’s novel set in 1930s Berlin.

  • LIEBE IST KÄLTER ALS DER TOD

    Fassbinder stars in his debut feature as a petty criminal whose desire for freedom is undermined by his emotional needs.

  • Die NIKLASHAUSER FAHRT

    Fassbinder’s intriguing exploration of the arts of political mass manipulation.

  • FONTANE EFFI BRIEST ODER VIELE, DIE EINE AHNUNG HABEN VON IHREN MÖGLICHKEITEN UND IHREN BEDÜRFNISSEN UND TROTZDEM DAS

    An exquisitely subtle rendition of Fontane’s 1896 novel, about a 17-year-old forced into marriage with an older man.

  • QUERELLE

    Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s adaptation of one of his favourite novels by Jean Genet – a dream-like tale of sex, murder and the quest for self-realisation.

  • Fear Eats the Soul

    Fear Eats the Soul

    Fassbinder’s international breakthrough is an unconventional love story with devastating emotional power.

  • MUTTER KÜSTERS FAHRT ZUM HIMMEL

    The wife of a factory worker gone murderously berserk finds herself hounded and exploited.

  • KATZELMACHER

    A Greek immigrant (Fassbinder) unleashes jealousy and xenophobia among a group of his Munich neighbours.

  • Die Ehe der Maria Braun

    Hanna Schygulla gives a star performance in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s film, as a German woman who struggles to rebuild her life after the Second World War.

  • Die SEHNSUCHT DER VERONIKA VOSS

    A young sports journalist meets an ageing movie star in this eerie vision of 1950s Germany.

  • Der AMERIKANISCHE SOLDAT

    Fassbinder’s glorious re-working of Hollywood noir, about a man who becomes a contract killer.

  • FAUSTRECHT DER FREIHEIT

    In this funny and sad tale, Fox wins the lottery and falls in love with ‘posh and prissy’ Eugen.

  • Lili Marleen

    Set in the Third Reich, this forbidden love story focuses on recording star Willie Bunterberg.

  • WHITY

    A black butler in the American South of the 1870s holds a strange erotic power over his masters.

  • ANGST VOR DER ANGST

    Overcome by anxiety, a middle-class wife and mother struggles to conform.

  • CHINESISCHES ROULETTE

    A bitter young girl brings her emotionally estranged parents together in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s gothic psychodrama.

  • MARTHA

    This ruthless dissection of a marriage is like Douglas Sirk on steroids.

  • Die DRITTE GENERATION

    Colourful farce centring on a group of bourgeois self-styled terrorists.

  • PIONIERE IN INGOLSTADT

    A newly arrived army regiment makes a big impression on the sexually frustrated women of a Bavarian town.

  • Satansbraten

    Black comedy about a left-wing poet which skewers the cult of the charismatic artist.

  • WARUM LÄUFT HERR R. AMOK?

    A brilliant black comedy of manners about a man surely at the end of his tether…

  • Germany in Autumn

    This portmanteau film was the collective response of leading German filmmakers to the dramatic Baader-Meinhof terrorist crisis of autumn 1977.

  • ICH WILL NICHT NUR, DASS IHR MICH LIEBT

    Made 10 years after Fassbinder’s death, this doc investigates his approach to filmmaking through extracts, comments and interviews.

  • GOUTTES D'EAU SUR PIERRES BRÛLANTES

    François Ozon’s seductive chamber piece about the destructive affair between a middle-aged businessman and his younger lover.

Filmography

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