A transgender woman tries to salvage something from the wreckage love has made of her life by confronting her anguished past, hoping to find ultimate acceptance among former acquaintances an... Read allA transgender woman tries to salvage something from the wreckage love has made of her life by confronting her anguished past, hoping to find ultimate acceptance among former acquaintances and herself.A transgender woman tries to salvage something from the wreckage love has made of her life by confronting her anguished past, hoping to find ultimate acceptance among former acquaintances and herself.
Fassbinder establishes the pitiless tone of the film right from the start, with an opening vignette showing our central character, dowdy transsexual Elvira Weishaupt, dressed as a man and wandering through a park in the early hours of the morning looking for trade. After successfully managing to hook-up with a suitably butch male-prostitute, her secret is soon discovered and the 'john', alongside a couple of similarly macho friends, beat and mock Elvira, leaving her as a shivering, crying wreck, half-naked on an disused train-track. From here, Elvira limps home to her cramped apartment only to be plunged into a torturous, violent argument with her ex-boyfriend, which again, leaves her used and humiliated. The film continues in this episodic approach as we follow Elvira over the course of a few days and eventually find out more about her true character and personality and the events in her life that led to the eventual creation of the person that she is when we first discover her. These events are no less cruel and humiliating to the character of Elvira - who has clearly made a number of mistakes, either as a result of naiveté, arrogance or blind stupidity - as we discover the process that turned a handsome young man with a wife and infant daughter into an overweight, alcoholic wreck, abused and betrayed by the various men in her life, and the social pariahs that hang on the periphery.
As ever with Fassbinder, the presentation of the film underpins the feelings of the character and the world that she inhabits perfectly; with the cramped spaces of her apartment made even more prison-like and oppressive by the director's claustrophobic use of staging, design and composition. Fassbinder undertook the role of cinematographer himself here and shot the film on grainy 16mm, which again, adds to the stark and colourless feeling that the film conveys. The ugliness of the cinematography, with its dimly lit rooms, fragment composition and awkward camera movements could be seen as either amateurish on the part of the filmmaker, or as a deliberate attempt to distance the viewer from the characters and the emotional subtext in a manner that is reminiscent of Brecht; or, more appropriately, Godard's cinematic appropriation of Brecht and his theatre of alienation. As with the subsequent political satire, The Third Generation (1979) - once again, shot by Fassbinder himself - the unconventional approach to cinematography is combined with further elements that attempt to similarly disarm us and make the process of viewing the film as difficult as possible. The opening scene itself is emblematic of this approach, with Fassbinder obscuring the frame with large titles and an opening text that scrolls slowly over the entire frame before continuing with his use of obscured images and fragmented mise-en-scene.
Fassbinder also uses jarring cuts, with scenes seemingly beginning during the middle of a conversation or after the context of the scene has already been established, whilst sound and the disorientating way in which the director has characters talking over one another while music plays disconcertingly in the background all continue this idea of deconstruction and emotional distraction. The ugliness of the film fits perfectly with its tone; with the legendary scene in which Elvira and her friend wander ghost-like through an actual slaughterhouse, where cows are dispatched in graphic detail, whilst a monologue is recited to give us the entire back-story of this truly tragic figure. Whether or not Elvira is an extension of Fassbinder or the personification of Armin Meier is unknown, though there is certainly that element to the interpretation. I'd imagine that there is also some of the director in the portrayal of manipulative antagonist Anton Saitz, who recalls the depiction of Fassbinder in the director's own segment of Germany in Autumn (1978). Regardless, In a Year of 13 Moons is a fascinating if entirely difficult work from Fassbinder; one that brims with an uncomfortable feeling of personal confession and searing self examination that is grotesque, repellent and utterly draining, whilst also standing as a powerful and passionately realised piece of work that is both remarkable and affecting.
- Jun 24, 2008