The late Rainer Werner Fassbinder, arguably the most important director of the New German Cinema, deserves better treatment than he gets in “I Don’t Just Want You to Love Me,” a disappointing documentary that contains too many glaring omissions. Nonetheless, being the first docu about Fassbinder, who died in 1982 at the age of 37, and offering some valuable insights about his work, if not personal life, it has good chances for a limited theatrical release, particularly in connection with Fassbinder retrospectives, and later on public TV, cable and video.
Written and directed by Hans Gunther Pflaum, who has also published a book on the subject, docu might as well have been titled “Observations on Fassbinder,” for it’s not a chronological or systematic account of the filmmaker’s career or life. Instead, its awkward structure consists of nine chapters, divided along thematic lines.
Fassbinder’s mother, Lilo Eder, provides some anecdotal material about his childhood, most notably his stubbornness (“He would not be ignored”), loneliness and sensitivity, and there is useful information about his stage career and the “Anti-Theater” company he established in 1967.
Actress Hanna Schygulla claims that Fassbinder wasn’t spontaneous or instinctual, but precise, conscious and calculating. “He was just faster than most,” she says, “he always had the cuts in his head.” One reason why Fassbinder was so prolific was his competitive urge — if Jean-Luc Godard made three films in one year, he had to make four. In a career that spanned 15 years, Fassbinder directed over 50 films and TV dramas.
Other actors, including an AIDS-ridden Kurt Raab, talk about the vital function of his stage troupe, and later cast and crew, as family substitutes. For his part, Fassbinder, who is heard from in several interviews, relates how all his life he was around people “looking for both father and mother.”
Docu includes several film excerpts, with visual and textual analysis. But despite the fact that a whole sequence is shown from “Fox and His Friends,” one of the first gay German films, in which Fassbinder played the lead, there is no discussion of the director’s homosexuality and how it was reflected in his distinctive sensibility.
Other conspicuous oversights include failure to acknowledge the influence of Hollywood’s melodramas and Douglas Sirk on Fassbinder’s style. Finally, even though it was public knowledge that Fassbinder died of a cocaine overdose, only his excessive drinking — and never drugs — is mentioned as an integral part of his lifestyle.
Flawed as it is, “I Don’t Just Want You to Love Me” deserves to be seen — until a better, more thorough docu is made about the versatile director, who revolutionized post-WWII German cinema and helped put it on the international film map.