After the opening scene, the story of Elvira picks up back at her house, as she is dumped by her long-time boyfriend Christoph Hacker, played by Karl Scheydt, a rather bullying and histrionic actor. It’s curious in this scene that despite the obvious identity confusion Elvira is suffering, that her boyfriend is probably worse, and is really only in the relationship for the bullying as it is. Why would he worry about identity anyway, when he holds the physical power in the relationship?
Although he appears sure of himself, it’s him we see as confused, uncertain as to what he wants. He is unable to love Elvira, that much we know – and in this scene, the tragedy of Elvira is all but laid out, played out and contained.
It’s often said that Fassbinder didn’t give actors direction in the traditional manner – stand there, talk like that, etc. – and it certainly helps in universalising themes and situations. In the case of Karl Scheydt in In a Year of 13 Moons, this seems to pay, and because Scheydt appears pretty straight – almost too straight to be with someone like Elvira, we are reminded of all the break-ups we’ve been through and the fact that in this life, nothing really is typical. Scheydt’s straight-laced approach to this part also highlights Elvira’s ultimate craving – acceptability and love. It’s all she wants but she is never going to get it, despite her kindness and her attempts to apologise to Saitz – family living is still going to elude her right until the end.
So Elvira is beaten up while dressed as a man, only to come back to her own house where her lover Christoph has returned after a 6 week unexplained absence – and he beats her up too. And the message is quite clear – nowhere is safe for this character. Christoph’s criticism of Elvira is unfair, because she really loves him, and although she appears to him as ‘a superfluous lump of meat’ much like the cows we’re about to see quite soon – ‘a thing like you doesn’t have a soul’ - so the skill in this portrayal here is presenting a character who asserts superiority, when in fact this is only to conceal his own weakness and abusive tendencies. Fassbinder says it’s endemic, not just to this relationship, but if you’ve been following the oeuvre to this point you’ll know that RWF belives the true home of oppression to be in the relationship – man/wife or any combination thereof – it matters not.
One more thing that is special about the opening scene between the two lovers in In a Year of 13 Moons is that, at least when I was watching it, I felt that the first few things that we learn about Elvira are perhaps not true in the slightest – that her brain is empty, that she is a drunk, that she has no soul, and that she is little more than a nauseating and sexless concoction. Well – by the end of the film we know this not to be true – but placing it all in the first few minutes like this, really makes a viewer wonder. The intriguing line which Elvira returns with is – ‘Is it because I helped you regain your self-respect?’ It doesn’t matter what sex or orientation you are, but if you’ve been in a relationship at any point in life, then you will have been through this histrionic scene with your partner – an amazing truth.
Why do we laugh when, moments later, Elvira is run down by Christoph in his Mercedes? Could be because Scheydt and Spengler can now freely ask the audience: so you’ve been through the breakup, but did it ever get the clinging-to-the bonnet of your ex’s car stage?