An Eva Called Man
15 November 2010
I was lucky enough to find a VHS copy of this film when an unlucky neighborhood video rental store was going out of business. Being a Fassbinder devotee, A MAN CALLED EVA was one of two holy grails (the other being WORLD ON A WIRE) I'd been desperately trying to find for years. I refuse to pay exorbitant prices online for anything used, so I jumped at the opportunity of dropping $3 for this copy.

Familiar in many ways to the plot of Fassbinder's own film, BEWARE OF A HOLY WHORE, A MAN CALLED EVA concerns many people (some friends, some lovers, some enemies, some all three) residing in close quarters in preparation for the shooting of a film. The film in question is going to be a Fassbinder film, for Fassbinder himself is the main character of A MAN CALLED EVA. Sex is on everyone's mind - the motivation for all. Here, love is a weakness to be taken advantage of. Power is all that matters. Classic Fassbinder tropes.

Though not a Fassbinder film itself (it is directed by one Radu Gabera), A MAN CALLED EVA carries the leather-scent of Rainer in every frame, if only due to the extraordinarily moving performance of Eva Mattes. As the blurb on the video case states (and I concur), having a woman portray Fassbinder is truly one of the greatest casting decisions in the history of the medium. And not just any actress, but one who knew him well enough to not be a liar. In fact, I don't think anyone else (man or woman) could've pulled it off as well as Mattes.

Mattes had been in several Fassbinder films, yes, but she was far enough away form the center of his notorious clique that she maintains some objectivity. She knew Fassbinder's mannerisms, his demeanor, his persona, and from first-hand experience she likely knew even more. But what Mattes had on her side was not being invested in Fassbinder, neither in life or death. In order to support life, a planet of a particular size must have an extremely precise distance from its star; the ratio is essential. And so it is with Mattes and Fassbinder. And the life of her performance, and this performance of her life, flourishes before your very eyes.

Mattes plays Fassbinder as a leather-jacket clad, cigarette wielding, manic depressive harpy, which by many accounts Fassbinder really was. But there's a genius in her performance, which is in showing him as a human being. It's difficult for many people to enjoy Fassbinder's films knowing him to have been such a manipulative Svengali in real life. Interestingly enough, though the actor Fassbinder is believable as a victim in KATZELMACHER and FOX AND HIS FRIENDS, it's this real-life reputation of his that has kept some from feeling full sympathy towards his performances. However, A MAN CALLED EVA has the power to make even the most cynical feel sympathy for Fassbinder the man.

For years (too few) we watched women cry, wail and scream in his films - veritable mediums of his rage and disgust towards contemporary Germany. In a MAN CALLED EVA, Mattes gets to return the honor. I don't think Fassbinder would've wanted anyone else but a woman to represent him.

If you can find the film don't hesitate to watch it.
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