In a Year with 13 Moons (1978)

Fassbinder’s tale of a despondent transgender woman facing the anguish of a wrecked love life might be one of his gloomiest efforts in portraying the existence of the marginalised.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review #2,496

Dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder
1978 | West Germany | Drama | 124 min | 1.66:1 | German
Not rated – likely to be R21 for homosexual themes

Cast: Volker Spengler, Ingrid Caven, Gottfried John
A transgender woman tries to salvage something from the wreckage love has made of her life by confronting her anguished past, hoping to find ultimate acceptance among former acquaintances and herself.

Distributor: Studiocanal

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Transgender; Anguish & Acceptance
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No

I find Fassbinder to be at his most personal and scathing when he tackles issues of the marginalised, particularly in relation to gender and sexuality, and located in the context of an unforgiving, often queerphobic, society. 

These kinds of grounded stories set him apart from his peers like Wim Wenders and Werner Herzog.  While In a Year with 13 Moons doesn’t quite reach the heights of, say, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1973) or Fox and His Friends (1975), it still is an excellent watch. 

A despondent transgender woman, Elvira (Volker Spengler in heartbreaking form), must face the prospect of an empty future when her love life gets wrecked. 

Her life is already a train wreck of bad decisions and torrid pasts—through narration, voice recordings, monologues and conversations with acquaintances past and present, Elvira tries to reflect on the state that she is in, while at the same time, trying to make whatever amends she could muster. 

“There’s just something in my head that makes me feel paralysed sometimes.”

It is an emotionally exhausting work and possibly one of Fassbinder’s gloomiest efforts.  Using music by Mahler and Nino Rota (from Amarcord) right from the get-go, Fassbinder establishes a tone of both seriousness and honesty. 

This allows us to connect with Elvira’s plight, yet his filmmaking style, stoic and sometimes observational, provides audiences with the necessary distance to look upon these events with empathy. 

In a Year with 13 Moons might be a depressing tale, but it is never arduous to watch (except for that early sequence in a slaughterhouse which is not for the squeamish) and always tender if elegiac to behold. 

Grade: A-


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