In a Year With 13 Moons

In a Year With 13 Moons (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1978)

This drama follows the last few days in the life of Elvira (formerly Erwin) Weisshaupt. Years before, Erwin told a co-worker, Anton, that he loved him. "Too bad, you aren't a woman," he replied. Erwin took Anton at his word. Trying to salvage something from the wreckage love has made of his life, he now hopes that Anton will not reject him again.

Following the suicide of his lover Armin Meier, film director Rainer Werner Fassbinder has written, directed, and photographed his most personal and an intense film with In a Year with 13 Moons. It was only the second time that Fassbinder shot one of his films and it resulted in a beautiful dark film about some of the most recurrent themes of his filmography; love, affection, desire, victims and oppressors.

Here, the victim is Elvira (Volker Spengler) who went to Casablanca to get a surgery to pass from Erwin, a man, to Elvira a woman. Following his great crush for Anton Saitz (Gottfried John) he decided to become a woman. However, Anton is the perfect kind of oppressor that populates Fassbinder’s films and is a real estate rich man that represents capitalism and people that exploit the sensitively weak.

Structured as a spiritual quest, the film goes from the location where Elvira met Anton, the slaughterhouse in a scene that reminded me of Georges Franju’s Le sang des bêtes. Then, Elvira goes at the orphanage and talks to a sister (Fassbinder’s mother) that explain her childhood. We also discover his daughter and former wife. It is clear that Elvira is looking for her sexual identity and doesn’t really fit into any life patterns or gender specifics. Fassbinder sure has put lots of himself and his personal path into his heroine.

There’s a touch into every Fassbinder film that is so personal, raw, and passionate that I am always surprised how I am very fond of his films. It is probable that In a Year With 13 Moons is one of his most personal film. Just as I personally love and cherish Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, also the director’s most personal film, I think that it is not really considered as his masterpiece just as In a Year With 13 Moons might not be the Fassbinder masterpiece but one of his most important examples of sheer talent in storytelling and visual wizardry.

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