Jul 29, 2013

A Woman in Flames

 In describing the varying types of femininity in his magnum opus Sex and Character: An Investigation Of Fundamental Principles (1903), Viennese philosopher Otto Weininger concluded that the two archetypal extremes of the fairer sex are the “mother” and the “prostitute,” arguing, “Prostitution is not a result of social conditions, but of some cause deep in the nature of women; prostitutes who have been "reclaimed" frequently, even if provided for, return to their old way of life. . . . I may note finally, that prostitution is not a modern growth; it has been known from the earliest times, and even was a part of some ancient religions, as, for instance, among the Phoenicians.” If the prostitute type is an inborn quality of certain woman, it would most certainly describe the protagonist of erotically-charged sub-arthouse flick A Woman in Flames (1983) aka Die flambierte Frau directed by Dutch-German cinematographer-turned-auteur Robert van Ackeren (Harlis aka The Sensuous Three, Purity of Heart aka Die Reinheit des Herzens). The superlatively salacious story of a childless housewife who leaves her life of relative bourgeois luxury to become a high price call-girl who eventually makes the major mistake of starting clearly a foredoomed relationship with a bisexual hustler who dreams of being a restaurant owner, A Woman in Flames is a decidedly depressing yet strangely jocular and teasing, sin-saluting cinematic work featuring a curious collection of sexual spastics, fucked fetishists, closet queens, fascistic leather-men, cultivated cocksuckers, and other repressed perverts who must patronize prostitutes to get the sort of lurid loving that they so deeply and pathetically long for, but cannot find elsewhere. Like virtually all of debauched director Robert van Ackeren’s sex-obsessed works, A Woman in Flames features weak cuckold men, ‘strong’ and sexually promiscuous women, sadomasochism and eclectic fetishism, and a risqué romance between two troubled yet strangely sexually complimentary lovers. Undoubtedly director van Ackeren’s most popular, successful, and commercial work to date, A Woman in Flames is virtual softcore pornography for leftist intellectuals, feminists, and other members of the vogue kraut bourgeoisie. Featuring passive men that cannot ‘assert’ themselves, aggressive women who use whips as pseudo-phalluses, and a naughty nympho as a sort of high-dollar-whore hero who empowers herself by peddling her puss for cash as opposed to giving it away for 'free' to her husband, A Woman in Flames ultimately makes for an absurd look at the human byproducts that have been created by feminist brainwashing, kosher capitalism, and the destruction of traditional genders that came as a result of the Second World War. 

 Despite living a lavish lifestyle, owning a nice home (courtesy of her husband’s income!), and spending her work-free days listening to records and talking with friends on the phone, Eva (Gudrun Landgrebe) hates being a domestic housewife. After her husband complains about the fact she used his razor to shave her legs, forgot to buy wine, put glasses in the wrong places, and has done virtually nothing all day, Eva freely admits she is the opposite of the ideal wife due to being a horrible cook, a failure at setting the table, an awkward dancer, as well as someone who failed both her driving and medical exams, and a total failure when it comes to learning both math (numbers and formulas make her ‘dizzy’) and languages. Since her self-absorbed spouse couldn't care less what she says regarding her lack of domestic talents, Eva decides enough is enough and leaves her hubby a goodbye note stating, “I don’t love you anymore,” and she packs her bags and walks out of the house without him ever noticing. In no time, Eva makes the acquaintance of a madame/female pimp named Yvonne (van Ackeren regular Gabriele Lafari) who teaches the disgruntled housewife everything she needs to know about peddling her flesh, including how the normal work requires that she lay on the bed and spread her legs, and that if a John wants out of the ordinary, it will cost him extra. A failure as a wife who seems to hate all rules and institutions, Eva has a hard time carrying out even the most fundamental aspects of her job, including simply spreading her legs and becoming the passive “love servant” of a bastard of a businessman who expects to get cash for cunt any time he wants. Of course, Eva has yet to find her true calling when it comes to being a sex worker. One night, while hanging out at a ritzy bar, Eva is approached by an effete bisexual gigolo named Chris (European arthouse superstar Mathieu Carrière), who makes a great impression on her after facetiously stating, “Why are you staring at me? I find you vulgar and badly made-up.” While the two high-class prostitutes become a couple, problems arise when Chris’ sod sugar daddy Kurt (Hanns Zischler) becomes jealous of the happy heterosexual relationship the two have together. Meanwhile, Eva runs into her ex-husband at a bookstore and he demands that she have sex with him one more time, but she naturally turns him down and states in defense regarding her new degenerate profession, “I’m a woman who does men like you a favor. A married woman doesn’t take money for it. Unmarried women who live from men are sluts. And when you do it as your profession, you’re a whore. And I’ll be the best paid whore, because I offer the least.” 

 Of course, once she realizes she derives pleasure from humiliating an anal retentive beta-male (nothing says beta like a white man married to an Asian woman!) by calling him gay and making him wear a woman’s apron and lipstick, Eva finds her natural calling as a ball-crushing and fag-flagellating dominatrix. Eva even expresses her love to Chris in a somewhat sadistic manner by telling him that she loves him because his eyes are too blue, his nose is too large, and his mouth is too narrow, but not without finishing him off with a blowjob. Not long after, Eva and Chris rent out a flat together which they use as their own live-in brothel, but naturally problems arise when the two lovers regularly see each other having sex with customers, but to be fair, the lady of the house never screws her Johns, but merely beats the shit out of them, including a brutal scenario where she crushes a man’s fingers by stepping on them with stilettos. With the help of cultured colon-choker Kurt, Eva and Chris are even able to pretend to be members of high society while entertaining intellectuals and scholars. Eva even tells some pompous dinner guests that she is writing a thesis on “melancholy and boredom” and Chris purports to be a ‘freelance photographer’ (his specialty being ‘ID photos’). As Chris states, “Eva and I love the same books, the same films and the same music. We think and feel always the same. We are ideal lovers,” and, indeed, he is right, but trouble arises when he confesses his dream of opening a restaurant with Kurt. Additionally, a conflict of interest brews when Eva tells Chris she wants to have a daughter (with blonde hair, like when “she was a child”), but when the kind gentleman asks her to marry him, she states she is not the kind of woman that wants to get married. After fighting with Eva over the fact that she gets paid for “disdaining men,” Chris goes to a Querelle-like gay bar (incidentally, director van Ackeren played a small role in Fassbinder’s 1982 adaptation of the Genet novel) with Kurt and dances like a gay robot to some Kraftwerk-esque synth song. Over time, the bizarre love triangle between Eva, Chris, and Kurt turns into an all out war. Eva attempts to intimidate Kurt by stripping in front of him, which disarms the dandy fairy, but he has a lot of money and Chris needs his sugar daddy so he can achieve his lifelong dream of opening a restaurant. Without asking his girlfriend's permission, Chris uses his and Eva’s money, which is in a joint bank account, to buy a restaurant, which inevitably destroys what is left of their relationship. After Eva refuses to kiss Chris, he punches her in the face, douses her with vodka, and sets her on fire with a lit candle, thus turning her into a literal “woman in flames” (or not). In the end, Eva is somehow still alive and empowered by the fact she is an ‘independent woman’ (or something), even visiting her ex-boy toy Chris’ restaurant just to spite him. 

 Featuring a musical score by Fassbinder’s best friend/main composer Peer Raben and a small performance from German dandy auteur Werner Schroeter’s muse Magdalena Montezuma as an uptight bourgeois type, A Woman in Flames is technically a work of German New Cinema, but with its too-slick production values, Basic Instinct-esque eroticism, and quite clear appeal to pompous perverts who do a lot of wine-sniffing, A Woman in Flames seems more like a blue movie for impotent bluebloods and upper-middleclass types suffering from a midlife crisis than a serious work of celluloid art. Of course, I am sure there are many bourgeois feminists and cuckolds out there that could come up with a clever argument as to why A Woman in Flames is a piece of socially empowering and sexually liberating work that portrays the ghastly traditional institution of marriage as something worse than prostitution and ‘female empowerment’ as more important than being with someone you love. Ultimately, A Woman in Flames is a film about marginally attractive individuals with majorly appalling and rather repulsive personalities who inevitably reap what they sow, thus they deserve not even the smallest inkling of the viewer’s sympathy. While protagonist Eva of A Woman in Flames flirts with the idea of a having daughter, she knows deep down that she is and will always be a lonely streetwalker with an incapacity for normal love. As Otto Weininger described in Sex and Character, “The prostitute is the great seductress of the world, the female Don Juan, the being in the woman that knows the art of love, that cultivates it, teaches it, and enjoys it,” yet Eva goes a step or two further as someone who derives great pleasure from humiliating and torturing men and she does a great job doing it, but she would probably make about as good a mother as Jeffrey Dahmer would make a father. As she demonstrates when she contemptuously tells her lover Chris when breaking off their relationship, “I fell in love with a gigolo… I don't want to grow old with the owner of a restaurant,” Eva is the sort of woman who would rather be in a relationship with a capitalist cocksucker with AIDS than be with a clean man who runs a legitimate business. When comparing the sort of men that hookers are attracted to, Weininger argued, “The prostitute, on the other hand, is most attracted by a careless, idle, dissipated man. A man that has lost self-restraint repels the mother-woman, is attractive to the prostitute. There are women who are dissatisfied with a son that is idle at school; there are others who encourage him. The diligent boy pleases the mother-woman, the idle and careless boy wins approval from the prostitute type.” Indeed, it is no coincidence that the sort of men Eva gets paid to beat as a dominatrix are rich businessmen and the men she enjoys sharing carnal knowledge with are degenerates who blow old men for money. 

 With prostitution being made totally legal in Germany in 2002, A Woman in Flames now seems rather outmoded, yet the film is still marginally ‘important’ in its depiction of how far the Fatherland has degenerated since having ‘democracy’ forced on it after the Second World War. While Rainer Werner Fassbinder did a much better job with his BRD Trilogy (The Marriage of Marian Braun, Veronika Voss, Lola) in depicting how the chaos of World War II and the subsequent “Wirtschaftswunder” (“Economic Miracle”) forced an entire generation of German women to become both literal and/or figurative whores and turned an entire generation of men into cuckolds, betas, and bitches, A Woman in Flames goes a couple steps further in its explicitness as a cinematic work that is more a symptom of the cultural decay it portrays and glorification of prostitution as opposed to a critique of such things. As a filmmaker who would direct two porn flicks, Deutschland privat - Eine Anthologie des Volksfilms (1980) and Deutschland privat - Im Land der bunten Träume (2007), utilizing footage sent to him from couples around Germany who wanted their homemade sextapes forever immortalized, director Robert van Ackeren certainly deserves credit as Deutschland’s foremost anti-völkisch pornographer! 

-Ty E

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