my love for fassbinder will never die
Gmail alerted me yesterday that my mailbox storage was at capacity and I spent a very long time going through old emails dating all the way to 2010. There were drafts of never sent emails from a period of my life I thought I had erased all traces of. They were heartbreaking and humbling to read. But I digress…
I found this transcription from a favorite scene from a favorite film, In a Year with 13 Moons (1978) by my dear, dear Rainer Werner Fassbinder. The simplicity of some of his earlier films bolsters their existentential worth when one compares them to the true simplicity of existence - which is often over dramatized, something I am no stranger to taking part in. But, in a sense, my over dramatization only occurs because I guess I am fraught to fully understand how circumstances and events that seem to be so simple can contain so much meaning when put into the larger context of “things.”
In a Year with 13 Moons is one his later films a bit less simplistic, though still so at times. In this scene, for example, the language is simple, the emotion is stoic. But the philosophical musings in the explanation of ideas is a bit more complex. Here is the transcribed dialogue from the scene and also the clip.
Elvira is a transexual who very spontaneously took off to Casablanca years ago after “he” fell in love with a man, Anton Saitz, with whom “he” was in the butcher business. (Aside: The beginning of the film has a wonderful scene inside a slaughterhouse - hard to watch as a committed vegetarian for 22 years…) Elvira is unhappy with her decision to become transexual - and Anton does not know that she has. Recently, Elvira has been troubled emotionally after her lover left her. She has came to the building where Anton has his office (which is mostly empty due to Anton's erratic and sort of insane behavior - he is a real estate mogul) to apologize to him. Elvira recently had recently given an interview (I can’t remember why she was interviewed…) during which she said some very personal things about Anton and she is afraid he will retaliate and hurt her family - Elvira has a biological daughter from before she had the sex change. She falls asleep on an empty floor of the building and awakens when she hears a man walk in who doesn’t seem to notice her. He drapes a noose over a pipe in the ceiling - he is about to commit suicide.
Elvira: Sorry, could you give me a light please? I'm sitting around here and don't know where to get a light. Otherwise, just pretend I’m not here...
- The man lights her cigarette.
Elvira: Thanks... would you like one?
Man: No, thanks.
Elvira: Are you going to hang yourself?
Man: Naturally. Does this building belong to you?
Elvira: No, I just wanted to eat here. Would you like something to eat? I have some bread, and cheese, and a bottle of red wine with me but no corkscrew.
Man: Give me the bottle. I’ll open it.
- He opens the bottle and drinks some of it.
Elvira: Thank you. It’s an old story, with the red wine, and the french bread and the cheese… Almost a bit sentimental when I think about it. But what would life be without sentiment? Pretty sad, I’d say. It all started with cheese. Meat nauseated Anton. We were in meat trading at the time. Anton couldn’t stand the smell of dead animals because of the blood in particular. He stopped eating meat over night. That’s how it all started. It’s as simple as that, you see? Is the wine good?
Man: Fine, thanks.
Elvira: Why? I mean, why?
Man: Why do I want to hang myself?
Man: I don’t want to let things go on being real because I perceive them.
Elvira: What things?
Man: Feelings, for instance, or letters, pictures, memories, rocks, laid and forgotten at the moment of death, in awareness of pain, the universe, Solaris... the world of viruses... Things in general, you understand?
Man: That’s exactly what I mean: Your negation as an example of the seemingly effective principle of the power to negate.
Elvira: Maybe you’re right. But that doesn’t change things for me. I tried to put an end to my life once too because it just caused me pain and revolted me, made me feel deep down inside an incurable loathing of myself. I’d just come back from Casablanca. A certain person had forced me into oblivion, a person who had to merely smile his smile once too often. By pure chance, believe it or not, however incredible it may sound, my life was saved. My ego was forced to put up with me, to bear the unbearable.
Man: If you want to know the moral worth of people, as a whole in general, just look at their fate as a whole in general: Nothing but shortcomings, misery, anguish, death. There is an eternal justice, and were they not so worthless in general, their fate would not, in general, be so sad. We can, therefore, say: The world itself is the day of judgment. But it would be a great misunderstanding to see that as a negation of the will to live, to see suicide as an act of negation. Far from it: The negation of the will to exist is a bold affirmation of the will since negation means renouncing not life’s sufferings but its joys. The suicide wants life and simply rejects the conditions under which he experiences it. The suicide does not renounce the will to live; he renounces life by destroying the manifestation of his own life.
Elvira: I think you’d better do it now.
Man: I don’t mind if you watch.
After taking that in once again, I am so compelled to rewatch this film. I identify so completely with so many of Fassbinder’s emotions. I think it is easy for many others to do the same. Which, to me, is the sign of great writing: working to make a personal emotional experience universal. It has to come from within, but must be made universal. This is a tenet I follow in my own writing and making.
For fun, to compare, here is a favorite scene from his fourth film, but his first feature, Love is Colder Than Death (1969) - easily one of my favorite films.