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In a Year with 13 Moons (1978)

In einem Jahr mit 13 Monden (original title)
Not Rated | | Drama | 11 June 1980 (USA)
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 ... See full summary »

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Complete credited cast:
Volker Spengler ... Erwin / Elvira Weishaupt
Ingrid Caven ... Die rote Zora
Gottfried John ... Anton Saitz
Elisabeth Trissenaar ... Irene Weishaupt
Eva Mattes ... Marie-Ann Weishaupt
Günther Kaufmann ... J. Smolik, Chauffeur
Lilo Pempeit Lilo Pempeit ... Schwester Gudrun (as Lieselotte Pempeit)
Isolde Barth ... Sybille
Karl Scheydt Karl Scheydt ... Christoph Hacker
Walter Bockmayer Walter Bockmayer ... Seelenfrieda
Peter Kollek Peter Kollek ... Saeufer
Bob Dorsay Bob Dorsay ... Selbstmörder
Gerhard Zwerenz Gerhard Zwerenz ... Burghard Hauser, Schriftsteller


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. Written by Erik Gregersen <erik@astro.as.utexas.edu>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis




Not Rated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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West Germany



Release Date:

11 June 1980 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

In a Year with 13 Moons See more »


Box Office


DEM 700,000 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



Color (Eastmancolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.66 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


The tape-recorded narration heard throughout the film (particularly during the final scene) was not scripted. Volker Spengler (playing Elvira Weishaupt) and Rainer Werner Fassbinder recorded the narration together, with Fassbinder asking questions and Spengler responding in character. In the final cut of the film, Fassbinder's voice is edited out. See more »


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User Reviews

Fassbinder's darkest and most punishing examination of personal exploitation
24 June 2008 | by ThreeSadTigersSee all my reviews

Many, if not all of Fassbinder's films focus on weighty, emotional issues and characters plunged into personal despair, but none more so than the torturous and overpowering melodrama of In a Year of 13 Moons (1978). Here, Fassbinder created a film that is completely miserable in both tone and content from the first frame until the last; with the director taking the personal loss over the suicide of his lover Armin Meier and turning it into a suffocating chamber piece of pain and humiliation. Like his earlier masterpiece, Fox and his Friends (1975), the film focuses on the personal exploitation and persecution of a sensitive character at the hands of the people that he loves, as he finds himself cast against a cruel backdrop of the grimy and oppressive homosexual sub-culture of 1970's Frankfurt. However, unlike Fox and his Friends, the spirit of Meier's death and the guilt that we assume Fassbinder was suffering from at the time of the film's conception have here removed any prevailing notion of hope or the promise of escape that hung-over the character of Franz - the lottery winning carnival worker from the aforementioned "Fox", as he sought an end to his cruel suffering - and replaced it with a continually degrading emphasis on shame and deprivation.

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.

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