No one can doubt that the late Rainer Werner Fassbinder was a great filmmaker. His spare, resonant "I Only Want You To Love Me," which debuts tonight at the Charles in a benefit for AIDS Action Baltimore and will be introduced by John Waters, is a suggestion of what was to come.
Still, it's an early work (1976), a story in search of a form, more concerned with formal technique than with emotional meaning. Its crispness is its strongest virtue as it hurls through a story of petit bourgeois yearning and catastrophe.
Derived from actual events, it seems to be a cautionary tale on the evils of living beyond your means. It's an anti-credit-card movie.
The movie is narrated in flashback, where Peter (Vitus Zeplichal) is not a happy camper, explaining himself to a prison psychiatrist. Raised in an awesomely loveless but prosperous family, he can never please his parents, particularly his frosty mother, who has the glazed look of a gold Egyptian sarcophagous. He even builds them a house to attract their love; it works -- for two weeks.
Moving out, Peter eventually marries a decent young woman and finds work in the building trade. Yet he's obsessed with proving himself to his parents and begins desperately overextending himself financially.
Ultimately, the pressure drives him to what the world will see as a senseless act, a meaningless murder. But the genius of "I Only Want You To Love Me" is that it has taken us so far into Peter's mad universe that instead of seeing the crime as senseless, it seems completely logical, even (horrible though this is) necessary.
The movie, which begins a commercial run tomorrow in rotation with a restored version of Bertolucci's "The Conformist," is chilly, provocative, coldly formal and gripping.
"I Only Want You To Love Me"
Starring Vitus Zeplichal and Elke Aberle
Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Released by Leisure Time Features