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Fantoma Films presents
In a Year with 13 Moons (In einem Jahr mit 13 Monden) (1978)

Zora: But slaughtering animals...it's acting against life.
Elvira: No it's not. It's life itself, the steaming blood and death. That's what gives an animal's life meaning.

- Ingrid Caven, Volker Spengler

Review By: Robert Edwards  
Published: August 05, 2004

Stars: Volker Spengler, Ingrid Caven, Gottfried John, Elisabeth Trissenaar, Eva Mattes, GŁnther Kaufmann, Lilo Pempeit
Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (adult themes, language, disturbing scenes of violence with animals)
Run Time: 02h:04m:17s
Release Date: April 13, 2004
UPC: 695026703921
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A B+B+B- B-

DVD Review

The New Wave of German cinema flourished in the 1970s, and brought international fame to such directors as Wim Wenders and Werner Herzog. But the best known, most prolific, and arguably the most gifted of the crop was Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who in his short life (he died in 1982 at the age of 37) directed over forty films and countless theatrical productions. With the release of many of his better-known works by Wellspring, Criterion's excellent box set of his BDR Trilogy, and some of his more obscure films by other companies, Fassbinder fans have been relatively well-served by the DVD market, but several of his key works are missing. Fantoma fills in a major gap with their release of 1978's In a Year With 13 Moons, one of Fassbinder's most personal and heart-felt films.

1978 was an extremely trying year for Fassbinder. His longtime lover Armin Meier committed suicide, and he was experiencing difficulties in his artistic and professional lives as well. Rather than sink into despair, he poured his heart and energy into a film that would allow him to exorcise the demons of Armin's death, and prove his self-sufficiency to the world, and no doubt to himself. Fassbinder not only wrote and directed, but also produced, shot, art-directed, and co-edited the film.

In a Year With 13 Moons recounts the last few days in the life of Elvira (Volker Spengler), a transsexual formerly known as Erwin. After being beat up for trying to buy sex in a park, she returns home to find her longtime lover Christoph (Karl Scheydt), who's been away for six weeks. Christoph abuses her verbally and physically, and when he announces he's leaving for good, she desperately tries to stop him, only to be rescued by her friend Zora (Ingrid Caven). We watch as Elvira and Zora visit a slaughterhouse and the orphanage where Elvira grew up, and her contacts with her family and former lover Anton Saitz (Gottfried John), as she attempts to come to terms with the tragic consequences of her fatally flawed decision to change her sex.

Fassbinder breaks the narrative flow with a series of sequences that feature long monologues, each of them an almost self-contained story within the larger narrative. In one, Elvira recounts the story of her pre-sex change marriage to Irene (Elisabeth Trissenaar) and the birth of her daughter Marie-Ann (Eva Mattes), as well as the ups and downs of her relationship with Christoph. In another, Zora tells Elvira a long fairy tale to comfort her as she's trying to fall asleep. Melodrama was Fassbinder's working mode of choice in many of his films, but he was always careful to balance it with cinematic techniques that would allow his audience an escape from melodrama's excess of emotion. In this film, several of the monologue sequences begin with what we assume is a voice-over, which our movie-going experience has taught us gives unmediated access to a character's innermost thoughts. As the sequences continue, we suddenly realize that it's one of the characters speaking to another, and that the sound has been manipulated to mislead us. We're wrenched away from our intimate identification with the characters, and instead we're on the outside looking in. The technique is as effective as it is jarring.

In a film filled with striking sequences, two stand out, the first being Zora and Elvira's visit to a slaughterhouse. The images of cattle being processed for market are extremely graphic, none more so than shots of blood spurting from the cows' jugular veins, and of skin being removed from their severed heads. Against these repellent images Elvira recounts her past and how she supported Christoph for years by prostituting herself, and performs a monologue from Goethe, her voice rising in pitch and intensity to near-hysteria. It's a very disturbing sequence, but far from gratuitous, both in terms of the story—Elvira used to be a butcher, and worked with Anton in the meat business—and also thematically, since she's sacrificed herself, both literally and figuratively, in a desperate bid for love.

The other standout sequence is of Zora and Elvira's visit to the orphanage where Erwin grew up, as they attempt to learn about his now-forgotten (or repressed) past. As Sister Gudrun (Lieselotte Pempeit, Fassbinder's mother) walks up and down the courtyard, the camera follows, sometimes circling slowly around the characters, sometimes tracking her as she passes the courtyard's columns. It's a bravura sequence, so visually breathtaking that it calls attention to itself, and Fassbinder once again gives us an escape from the emotion-charged, heartbreaking tale recounted by Sister Gudrun.

In a Year With 13 Moons was Volker Spengler's first starring role, and his extensive preparation shows on the screen. It's painful to watch his willing self-abasement at the hands of his abusive lover Christoph, and his pitiful rejection by his family as he makes a last-ditch attempt to return to his former happiness. Spengler also reportedly insisted on Ingrid Caven for the role of Zora, and she's almost as good as Spengler, in a performance that's completely natural and convincing. Gottfried John as Anton Saitz has the only other substantive role in the film, and like the other actors who usually worked with Fassbinder, he's solid and reliable.

Despite the breakneck pace at which Fassbinder worked, his films are tightly constructed, and In a Year With 13 Moons is certainly no exception to that rule. Despite one major misstep (a bizarre sequence in which Saitz and his cronies, joined by Elvira, do an imitation of a dance number from Martin and Lewis' You're Never Too Young), this is a film that impresses both for the skill with which Fassbinder uses visuals and narrative effects, and also for its ability to affect the viewer on an emotional level.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Rationo

Image Transfer Review: The transfer is slightly cropped from its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1, but is very good, with solid colors and lots of detail in the image. Skin tones are a bit off in some scenes, but no more than is typical for a film from the 1970s. The biggest flaw with the image is the unnecessary and often-annoying edge enhancement.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Germanyes

Audio Transfer Review: The mono sound has little bass, and sounds a bit harsh and strident in the upper register; however, these are most likely limitations of the source material rather than the transfer.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Feature/Episode commentary by co-editor Juliane Lorenz
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Video introduction by Richard Linklater
  2. Love and Despair, a conversation with filmmaker Werner Schroeter
  3. Interview with Juliane Lorenz
  4. Six-page printed insert
Extras Review: In a full-frame, 15m:30s video interview, self-confessed "Fassbinder freak" Richard Linklater reveals himself to be an interesting and erudite speaker. He explains the usual division of Fassbinder's films into three periods, discusses the genesis of the film, and comments rather extensively on the slaughterhouse sequence. Longtime Fassbinder collaborator Juliane Lorenz provides more information about the circumstances surrounding the shooting, the Germans' love of Jerry Lewis, and talks about the relevance of the film in her life in her 16m:28s of screen time. Fassbinder friend and fellow director Werner Schroeter's 19m:09s interview is also in anamorphic widescreen, but in subtitled German. It's illustrated with clips and stills from several Fassbinder films, which help to detract from his rambling, free-associative comments.

Juliane Lorenz also provides a commentary for 45m:36s (with some gaps) of selected scenes. A few of her remarks are repeated from her interview, but she goes into more depth about Fassbinder's personal circumstances and working methods, use of music in the film, her own involvement in the Fassbinder Foundation, and how the development of Frankfurt influenced the film and its themes. She spends some time on an unnecessary plot synopsis, but overall this is a solid commentary track that adds to one's appreciation of the film.

Robert Kolker contributes three pages of notes in the printed insert. He places Fassbinder in the context of Sirk and Brecht, discusses some of the symbolism in the film, and analyzes the character of Elvira. As always, his comments are informative and lucid.

It's a bit curious that Fantoma would choose to entitle this release "In a Year with 13 Moons," since the film has been known in English for many years as "In a Year of 13 Moons," but this is a great DVD, and an essential buy for Fassbinder fans.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

Fassbinder's In a Year of 13 Moons is grim but exhilarating viewing. It's one of his most personal, and also one of his best films, and Fantoma come through with a DVD release that features a solid transfer and illuminating extras.


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