Picks and Pans Review: The Wizard of Babylon

updated 06/06/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/06/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Before he died last summer at 36 of a drug overdose, Rainer Werner Fassbinder had established himself as the most important German filmmaker since World War II. He was certainly one of the most prolific directors, with 41 films to his credit in just 13 years. This documentary, shot in the Berlin studio where Fassbinder was making what would be his last movie, Querelle, is his final testament—and a fascinating one. Fassbinder was fat, disheveled and painfully shy. But his presence was overpowering, whether he was working or ruminating on fame, death, love, homosexuality, Jackie Onassis, Andy Warhol or the Oscars. There are also interviews with the three actors in Querelle—American Brad Davis, France's legendary Jeanne Moreau and Franco Nero, a preening egomaniac if there ever was one ("I'm the only actor in Europe who takes chances," he says with a straight face). But the core of the film is a 12-minute interview with Fassbinder, made just 10 hours before he was found dead. This segment, in which Fassbinder chain-smokes and wheezes throughout as if in a stupor, was originally cut from the film by a court order after Fassbinder's mother protested, but it has been restored. There is a problem with the narration—it's hard to tell at times if the voice is Fassbinder's or someone else's. And when he is actually shown directing a scene, there is no translation from the German. The film does, though, achieve a starkly explicit personality. It is, by turns, moody, fascinating, boring, enigmatic and revealing—much like Fassbinder himself. (In German with English subtitles) (No rating)

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