Dec 23, 2012

A Man Like Eva

 “I wanna die like James Dean. You know how he died?”; or so asks a fanatical auteur named “Eva” – a fanatical filmmaker who lives, breaths, and directs films and has a hard time differentiating between the real world and the cinematic realm – to his film crew as he puts them in grave danger as he fantasizes about a subconscious suicide of sorts while driving like a perturbed maniac on the prowl in the claustrophobic cinematic work Ein Mann wie EVA (1984) aka A Man Like Eva directed by Jewish-Romanian auteur Radu Gabrea (The Secret of the Ice Cave, The Beheaded Rooster). Of course, the “Eva” (played by Eva Mattes in dyke drag) of A Man Like Eva is really supposed to be the pseudonym of Rainer Werner Fassbinder – the König of German Cinema whose own personal life paralleled the nihilistic and naked melodrama of his many cinematic efforts like no other auteur in the world before nor after him – as a work of celluloid grained in relatively, if not oftentimes obfuscated, objective biographical truth that both pays homage to the auteur yet at the same basks in the open wounds of his faults, failures, and general ugliness; terrible traits that would also provide him a positive source ‘to direct’ his tragic genius. A lifelong lover and loather of women who has been both severely criticized and revered for his uniquely unflattering but innately intimate depiction of the fierce fairer sex in groundbreaking and totally singular works like The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972), Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974), Fear of Fear (1975), The Stationmaster's Wife (1977), and The Marriage of Maria Braun (1978), among countless others, Fassbinder would have certainly appreciated the irony behind the fact that Eva Mattes – a marvelous and monstrous movie “mean girl” who played the lead role in the director’s Jail Bait (1973) aka Wildwechsel as a seemingly sociopathic teenage femme fatale who preposterously plots to have her boyfriend kill her overprotective father so she can have more 'freedom' – of all Fass-bande graduates would depict him. Aside from sharing a similarly homely semi-mongoloid appearance, both Fassbinder and his former actress know how to play “queen bitch” and anyone who has seen the director’s Germany in Autumn (1978) would have to completely concur as he was not a master of misery and misanthropy-driven melodrama for nothing! Beginning with the quote, “It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for what you are not,” written by French pederast and Nobel Peace prize for literature André Gide, A Man Like Eva immediately lets the viewer know that the angst-ridden anti-hero is a rather unpleasant and in more ways than one. Ostensibly oneiric in tone throughout in some sort of melancholy metaphysical hell mostly contained within a mere house, A Man Like Eva is a dauntingly dispiriting work that indubitably reminds one why Fassbinder’s death was probably not solely the result of a miscalculation of how much stardust he snorted up his nose, but a preordained outcome that was a long time in the making. 

As his ex-wife Ingrid Caven – his filmic Marlene Dietrich to her Josef von Sternberg – once eloquently expressed: “Rainer was a homosexual who also needed a woman. It’s that simple and that complex.” Indeed, if one were merely going on the daunting and even disgusting depiction of the filmmaker in A Man Like Eva, one would think Fassbinder was merely a furious and oftentimes flustered fag-meister whose jealous scorn would instantly incinerate even the most cuntish heated and hysterical of harlots, thereupon one could hardly describe the film as a masturbatory memorial ejaculated out by one unknown to capitalize off the posthumous infamy of another. Herr Eva is not exactly a pretty fellow due to his pudgy build and overall pitiful appearance, but that does not prevent him, despite his gayness, from getting blowjobs from his lead actress Gudrun (Lisa Kreuzer); a character that seems most in tune with Ingrid Caven, but sharing attributes of his other lead divas Hanna Schygulla, Irm Hermann, Margit Carstensen, and Barbara Valentin. Of course, blowjobs aren’t just blowjobs as it is the gender of the mouth that counts and Eva clearly prefers thin lips, no hips, and firm grips and he won’t let any beauteous bitch in his way stop him from haphazardly attempting to convert happy heterosexual men to seedy sodomy. Eva’s male ‘sex slave’ of sorts in A Man Like Eva is a genial but groveling buck negro named Ali (played by black Senegalese-Bavarian Charles M. Huber) – a character that is clearly a composite of Fassbinder’s real-life lovers Günther Kaufmann (Whity, Querelle) and El Hedi ben Salem (Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, Fox and His Friends), the latter of which would commit suicide via hanging like the character, albeit under much starker conditions. In an interview for the book Chaos as Usual: Conversations About Rainer Werner Fassbinder (2000) compiled by Fassbinder’s late-era film editor and the Fassbinder Foundation head Juliane Lorenz (Lili Marleen, Veronika Voss), German New Wave dandy auteur Werner Schroeter held his filmmaker friend partly responsible for his lover El Hedi ben Salem’s death, stating: “It was a simple story. Salem had hanged himself in jail. I blamed Rainer for that. I told him that people assume responsibilities for one another…I blamed Rainer because I felt he had let down a friend who, to a certain extent, was not his equal. Salem was not an educated person; he was not at all sure of himself,” which also characterizes Eva's relationship with Ali in A Man Like Eva, where the blighted black boyfriend makes every attempt to get his lackadaisical lover's attention, only to be unappreciated to the point where he sees no way out other than via suicide. Indeed, erratically evil Eva is not only an authoritarian auteur on film sets, but a demented dictator of the house that he and his incestuous film family occupy, dictating to his female actors who they may and may not sleep with (especially those he wants to fuck!) and trying to convert handsome heterosexual actors into homosexuality thus entangling his actors in fatalistic bizarre love triangles with himself at the center of it as a puppet-master of sorts. Needless to say, A Man Like Eva concludes on quite a superbly sour note that is not all that different from a Fassbinder melodrama, although more dreamlike and exceptionally eerie in its essence and dramaturgical execution.

A phantasmagorical frisk of Fassbinder’s ill-fated life, A Man Like Eva is a fleeting and funereal yet fantastical film featuring an oftentimes ferocious but mostly frivolous virtual ghost of post-war German film history as the protagonist. As an old man in creepy clown makeup tells Eva after discovering the self-slaughtered body of another crude composite character named Walter/Armand (played by Werner Stocker) – a rampantly heterosexual love interest of the filmmaker – near the end of the film: “I’d prefer anything in the world to being a fool..But I wouldn’t want to be you!” Indeed, if any German New Wave auteur paid for his art with literal flesh and blood, it was Rainer Werner Fassbinder; a man who lost two lovers via suicide (to which he felt overwhelming guilt about), suffered a self-annihilating drug addiction, and a chance at a financially (especially considering the sort of money he was making towards the end of career) stable bourgeois life he always claimed to abhor yet seemed to have a misguided nostalgia for, hence his failed attempt at marriage, as well as his obsession with Bavarian Catholic iconography as expressionistically depicted in A Man Like Eva. An absurdly audacious and ambitious auteur who once stated, “I would like to build a house with my films. Some are the cellar, others the wall, still others the windows. But I hope in the end it will be a house,” Fassbinder’s house comes allegorically alive in A Man Like Eva with his epic melodramatic period piece Effi Briest (1974) acting as the wallpaper, the fictionalized anecdotes from his life acting his bricks, and the film itself being an endearing, albeit firmly faultfinding, obituary from one of the filmmaker’s most favorite actresses, Eva Mattes, and certainly one of the most strikingly singular gifts a screen diva could bestow upon a respected director, especially since she essentially owes her early success to the man (Jail Bait, Eight Hours are Not a Day, Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, Effi Briest). Naturally, A Man Like Eva is a melodramatically morose memorial that was a direct aesthetic result of Fassbinder’s death as the seemingly manic-depressive man it pays tribute to certainly would have attempted to put a stop to the work had he been alive, but in the spirit of Jail Bait (1973), Mother Küsters' Trip to Heaven (1975), Querelle (1982), and countless other cinematic works, director Radu Gabrea and Eva Mattes had no interest in sparing anyone’s feelings, especially those of a six-feet-under enfant terrible.

 In one of Fassbinder's infamous 'misogynistic' aphorisms that was often used against him by fuming feminist detractors, he made the insightful observation that: "Women who let themselves be oppressed often are more beautiful that women who fight back."  Judging by the severely sickly and estrogen-deprived appearance of most prominent feminists, it should be no surprise as to why Fassbinder hit a nerve with these often hostile and hysterical people, but if one were to judge the filmmaker's personality on the basis of Eva Mattes, who knew the man all too well, it is easy to see how he came to this revelation being a 'spiritual woman' of sorts who saw less intellectual beauties as perennial enemies that would always bed the men he could never truly satisfy as a biological man.  In another aphorism by the antagonistic auteur, he wrote: "Most men simply cannot oppress women as perfectly as women would like them to."  Of course, Fassbinder, who was by now means a handsome man, gave women the marvelous masochism that they inconspicuously craved, hence the spell he put over Irm Hermann, among countless other women, to the point where she seriously thought that should could convert to him to heterosexuality as she described in Rosa von Praunheim's documentary Fassbinder's Women (2000).  If one learns anything from A Man Like Eva, it is that Fassbinder, as a gay man, was able to give women something they could not get from heterosexual men, but at the same time was unable to give the femininity and biological womanhood desired by straight men he swooned over, as an anomalous being that fit somewhere in between, henceforth his innate need to create an unconventional family of sorts that was brewing with chaos and destruction.  That being said, A Man Like Eva is a must-see film for any self-respecting Fassbinder fan, thought I doubt it would make anyone wish they had the opportunity to be a part of the hapless auteur filmmaker's descent into an abyss of loneliness and eventual self-obliteration.

-Ty E

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