Y Sa Lo plays a prostitute called Lana von Meyerbeer in Satansbraten– with the memorable opening line: ‘After my dad beat my mum to death and hanged himself, Uncle Edward became my guardian and he raped me - ’
Fassbinder’s comic take on the tragic road to whoredom is casual and tragic; but he also makes it funny. Y Sa Lo is a strange actress, although not as strange as her name may suggest. She always turns in great performances in Fassbinder films, but it’s tricky trying to track her down in anything else. She had made three appearances before she began in Fassbinder and only one after her part in Querelle — and the furious content farming on the internet means that these articles on this site are probably at present the only place you can read anything about her — not good, because I don’t think I know very much.
What I do know is that Fassbinder liked her as she stood for a certain sexual freedom, and she appears to be the most un self-consciously naked actress going.
Most of us probably don’t know any prostitutes, but spearheaded by Godard, many new wave European film directors made sex workers a featured aspect of any plot, generally as a background feature – though there are many exceptions, such as Fassbinder’s Lola. Godard films feature prostitutes because his early Marxist reading showed him that sex workers could act as the ultimate expression of many labour-related concepts, while satisfying audience interest and making all kinds of side (and snide) points about society, women, relationships and economics. I try and wonder sometimes if there are any Fassbinder films that don’t feature prostitutes; I guess there may be a couple.
In this case, at least, Fassbinder had experience (unlike Godard) of selling his own body and of buying that of others – somehow it’s hard to imagine a rent Godard, though it’s plastered all over RWF. Thing is though, that prostitutes don’t usually represent sex so much as love, in Fassbinder; and it’s love that Y Sa Lo’s character Lana is providing here in Satansbraten; as does the prostitute Lola in Lola, and so on.
The sex in Fassbinder is a little like the fighting – unreal. The audience don’t mind at first if the actors don’t make contact – they get the point of what is happening, generally in context. Although Y Sa Lo is naked, and Kranz is fully clothed, you would tend to look at a sex scene such as is portrayed in Satansbraten, and say – ‘That is not sex.’
What it is then is a question for you, and not for the director. The script and the director may say it is sex, but if you disagree, then you must answer the question yourself. Is it a stylised version of something? Is it a message, or is it as here a parody of sex?
In Satansbraten, weirdly, madness and farce strip away in the characters to reveal naturalism, a reverse that viewers aren’t exactly used to. It is an almost comic effect. Lana the prostitute’s naturalistic side is seen when Kranz goes to blackmail her – his final money-making scheme after he has robbed his parents. Lana is at home, knitting, and her life as a prostitute is revealed as her own perversion – she choose to do it for her own reasons. Lana is actually a fairly normal woman and housewife, stashing money and prostituting herself while her husband is away at work. Y Sa Lo’s character Lana is only on the game because it turns her on and she needs the love as well — a great joke from Fassbinder, although as usual, we may be too horrified to laugh — far less even see it as funny.