Film Review: ‘Fassbinder: To Love Without Demands’

Fassbinder: To Love Without Demands Review

If ever a helmer opened himself to Freudian interpretation, it was Rainer Werner Fassbinder: He practically demanded such analysis, so one can’t really criticize Christian Braad Thomsen for doing the same in “Fassbinder: To Love Without Demands.” Friend and devotee of Fassbinder from 1969 to the end, Thomson runs through the director’s career with a psychoanalytic bent, supported by an unreleased interview he shot in 1978 when the great man was particularly exhausted and loose-lipped. Any fresh Fassbinder material is always good news, and while “To Love” won’t convert new generations, it’ll make a welcome DVD extra after running the fest marathon.

In voiceover, Thomsen talks about meeting Fassbinder at the Berlinale following the screening of “Love Is Colder Than Death,” which “reinvented cinema” (a rather grand claim). He first filmed him in 1972, after the director just finished an astonishing five pics in five months, but the key interview Thomsen resurrects was made six years later in Cannes (where “Despair” was preeming). Here Fassbinder appears even more exhausted, battling sleep deprivation with a potent cocktail of booze and drugs, which is why Thomsen put the footage aside. Recently, however, he rewatched the interview and realized that, despite Fassbinder’s puffy eyes and slurred voice (not exactly remarkable), he was unusually candid in discussing his childhood, relationships and philosophy.

Thomsen divides his docu into chapters — “Childhood,” “The Adult Child,” etc. — to further emphasize the psychoanalytical underpinnings, especially with regard to Fassbinder’s earliest years and his relationship with his mother, Lilo Pempeit, who appeared in 23 of his movies (Pempeit’s voice is heard in audio interviews). Thomsen says Pempeit suffered from “long-term physical and mental consequences of the war,” but such a blanket statement demands clarification. Certainly she was a distant figure in his youth, and after she divorced his father, he was raised by a rotating group of adults from whom he received little warmth but much freedom.

It’s easy, and undoubtedly correct, to extrapolate the child Fassbinder’s desire for a stable family life with the “family” of actors he kept by his side throughout his professional life. Less secure is the emphasis on his Oedipal connection with his mother — in an interview Thomsen doesn’t mention, Fassbinder claimed he put Pempeit into the male position of the Oedipus myth (i.e., he wanted to kill her, not his father). Yet even this declaration needs to be treated with care: Thomsen’s most revealing, if unoriginal, statement is that Fassbinder embodied Jean Genet’s concept of “the double,” in that a psychological state and its opposite were equally applicable.

Therefore, much of what Fassbinder says can be analyzed in opposing ways. This is acutely true in the Cannes interview, valuable as it is, which has the feeling of a strung-out patient talking to his shrink. How much clear-eyed candor can we ascribe to the words of a doped-up man who’s been awake for days? Not that what he says should be dismissed (stream-of-consciousness and all that), but Fassbinder spoke for effect, and what he verbalizes one moment may be contradicted at another; after all, he was a performer. Putting a Freudian-Lacanian spin on his psyche therefore becomes a reductionist take on a very complex mind.

New material here includes recent interviews with muse Irm Hermann, whose frank descriptions of Fassbinder’s hold on her raise disturbing questions relevant to them both. No mention is made of Ingrid Caven or Juliane Lorenz, and there’s no interview material with Hanna Schygulla, though she appears in quite a few photos. Students of the astonishing body of films won’t find much that enhances their understanding, yet Thomsen’s footage offers more than mere scraps from a great career, and deserves inclusion in the corpus. Tech credits are standard.

Film Review: 'Fassbinder: To Love Without Demands'

Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Panorama Dokumente), Feb. 14, 2015. Running time: 109 MIN. (Original titles: “Fassbinder — at elske uden at kraeve” / “Fassbinder — Lieben ohne zu Fordern”)


(Documentary — Denmark) A Kollektiv Film production, with the support of Kong Gulerod Film, Jan Juhler Film. Produced by Christian Braad Thomsen.


Directed, written by Christian Braad Thomsen. Camera (color/B&W), Bente Petersen, Dirk Bruel, Gregers Nielsen; editor, Grete Moldrup; music, Peer Raben, Joachim Witt; sound, Thomsen, Dino Raymond Hansen, Jan Juhler.


Irm Hermann, Harry Baer, Andrea Schober. (German dialogue)