In a Year of 13 Moons (1978)

30 06 2008

After watching of pair of quickly composed Fassbinder films (Rio Das Mortes and Pioneers) it was quite nice to watch an effort with a more accomplished visual style. I’m no stranger to late era Fassbinder, but visually this is extremely impressive. In fact, it might be the single best-looking film of his entire career. Where the aforementioned films were more interesting in a narrative sense but crudely put together, this is almost the complete opposite. There’s more than a few overly-long sequences of people speaking far too eloquently about their feelings. I suppose this could be Fassbinder’s Life of Oharu as it is his most visually accomplished feature (just like Oharu is Mizoguchi’s) and while it does tone down the usual amount of Fassbinder melodrama, it is ultimately a bit too downbeat to provoke a particularly strong response.

The opening sequence introduces us to the general tone of not only the film, but Elviria’s life in general. She, formerly a he, goes to find herself a male prostitute for companionship but is beaten and mocked in the process. She returns home to find that her lover, Cristoph, is leaving her. She begs for him to stay, but he violently refuses. She begins to wander around town, meeting up with her pal Zora.

It is at this point in the film that characters begin to nonsensically spout exposition. While the narrative remains riveting, it begins to slow down its pace and starts to rely solely on the monologues for which ever character seems to have within themselves. Thankfully, this is one of Fassbinder’s best photographed films. Perhaps it be a little harsh to say the only saving grace is the cinematography, but in all honesty nothing seems more positive. At the very least, I can respect the film for simply presenting a very personal story but even then, its executed in a rather mundane fashion. Then again, there’s some people who love this but think Love is Colder than Death is mundane and that is probably my favorite Fassbinder. As for this, it is a very accomplished film but essentially too talkative for the rest of the film to reflect the greatness of the visuals.

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5 responses

1 07 2008
Ed Howard

I can’t imagine having such a lackluster response to this film. This was the third Fassbinder I ever saw (after Fear Eats the Soul and Petra von Kant), and the first that really blew me away and made me realize what a genius he was. After seeing this, I knew I needed to see everything I could get my hands on by him. The cinematography is indeed gorgeous — it’s one of only 2 films on which Fassbinder handled the camera himself — especially the sequence in the mirror-filled restroom that fragments Elvira’s form. But the film is also a viscerally powerful testament to unfulfilled desire and the naked need to be wanted no matter what. Yes, the structure of its narrative is deliberately blunt and expositional, but to me that only heightens the impact of the story. It’s also a reflection of Elvira’s own naively unfettered capacity for giving of him/herself. The slaughterhouse sequence should probably provide a clue of what Fassbinder is going for here: a sheer emotional gut-punch. It worked for me; I don’t think I’ve ever been so devastated by a film before or since.

This is also a remarkably personal film for Fassbinder, his way of working out on screen the suicide of his lover Armin Meier. As is typical of Fassbinder, he does so not through direct biography or autobiography, but by creating resonant characters and situations that comment upon the sadness of obsessive love and the lengths people will go to in order to be accepted by those they desire.

1 07 2008
Jake Savage

One day, we will agree on a film. Fassbinder is great, indeed, but I guess I’m a bigger fan of his early work.

1 07 2008
Ed Howard

Heh yea, we’ll find some common ground eventually. Fassbinder is one of my favorites, but par for the course: I vastly prefer his later work. Not that the early films are anything to sneeze at, either. I especially love The American Soldier and, yes, your favorite Love is Colder Than Death, which is just a fantastic debut.

30 10 2011
victor enyutin

R.W. Fassbinder’s “In a Year of 13 Moons” is dedicated to the analysis of the psychological nature of self-sacrificial love that is personified by the main character Erwin whose childhood was mutilated by the fact that he was abandoned by his mother and later on as a boy met with other situations that resonated with the primal rejection. Fassbinder scrupulously describes how Erwin’s childhood influences his behavior as an adult (including his decision to make a sex change operation to please the person he was in love with). In US today, sex change operations have become more widespread than before and even a popular topic of TV talk shows. For this reason for us, Americans of 21st century, it’s especially important to learn what Fassbinder thought about the readiness to maim the body so as to be in tune with the conventional morals or fashion. Erwin was not able to respect his homosexual desire and in a conformist way blamed his biology for not corresponding to “his true nature”. His sex change operation is a result of his inability to take responsibility for his unconventional sexual desire. The wider concerns of the film are the human ability to make genuine existential decisions instead of “choosing” between conventional ones and even more difficult the capacity to judge one’s decisions retrospectively as wrong. This film about Erwin/ Elvira‘s unique destiny can help us to contemplate about human life in general and our personal scripts inside it. Volker Spengler playing Erwin/Elvira impersonates the human soul wandering in between genders, as common denominator of a man and woman. It is an important step towards a new kind of humanity that refuses to be dichotomized into machos and pussycats. As always, in this film Fassbinder manages to make individual problem into a universal issue, and generously uses visual symbolism to make the points about human psyche, life, society and psychology of morality, amorality and immorality. Please, visit: http://www.actingoutpolitics.com to read about “In a Year of 13 Moons” and other Fassbinder’s films (with analysis of the shots), and also essays about films by Godard, Resnais, Bergman, Bunuel, Bresson, Kurosawa, Pasolini, Antonioni, Cavani, Alain Tanner, Anne-Marie Mieville, Bertolucci, Maurice Pialat, Herzog, Wenders, Ken Russell, Ozu, Rossellini, Jerzy Skolimowski, Moshe Mizrahi and Ronald Neame.
By Victor Enyutin

30 10 2011
victor enyutin

R.W. Fassbinder’s “In a Year of 13 Moons” is dedicated to the analysis of the psychological nature of self-sacrificial love that is personified by the main character Erwin whose childhood was mutilated by the fact that he was abandoned by his mother and later on as a boy met with other situations that resonated with the primal rejection. Fassbinder scrupulously describes how Erwin’s childhood influences his behavior as an adult (including his decision to make a sex change operation to please the person he was in love with). In US today, sex change operations have become more widespread than before and even a popular topic of TV talk shows. For this reason for us, Americans of 21st century, it’s especially important to learn what Fassbinder thought about the readiness to maim the body so as to be in tune with the conventional morals or fashion. Erwin was not able to respect his homosexual desire and in a conformist way blamed his biology for not corresponding to “his true nature”. His sex change operation is a result of his inability to take responsibility for his unconventional sexual desire. The wider concerns of the film are the human ability to make genuine existential decisions instead of “choosing” between conventional ones and even more difficult the capacity to judge one’s decisions retrospectively as wrong. This film about Erwin/ Elvira‘s unique destiny can help us to contemplate about human life in general and our personal scripts inside it. Volker Spengler playing Erwin/Elvira impersonates the human soul wandering in between genders, as common denominator of a man and woman. It is an important step towards a new kind of humanity that refuses to be dichotomized into machos and pussycats. As always, in this film Fassbinder manages to make individual problem into a universal issue, and generously uses visual symbolism to make the points about human psyche, life, society and psychology of morality, amorality and immorality. Please, visit: http://www.actingoutpolitics.com to read about “In a Year of 13 Moons” and other Fassbinder’s films (with analysis of the shots), and also essays about films by Godard, Resnais, Bergman, Bunuel, Bresson, Kurosawa, Pasolini, Antonioni, Cavani, Alain Tanner, Anne-Marie Mieville, Bertolucci, Maurice Pialat, Herzog, Wenders, Ken Russell, Ozu, Rossellini, Jerzy Skolimowski, Moshe Mizrahi and Ronald Neame.
By Victor Enyutin

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