Hey, this movie and my review are all about some heavy topics so there’s a Trigger Warning ⚠️ for: Transphobia, Suicide, Body Dysphoria and Domestic Abuse. If you want a TLDR: The Movie is so beautifully sad, personal to Writer/Director/Editor Rainer Warner Fassbinder and empathetic I can forgive it’s more transphobic elements. 5/5 stars.
In A Year With 13 Moons is about Trans Woman Elvira Weishaupt (an incredible Volker Spengler) who after a devastating breakup with her long term boyfriend goes searching through her past and present for any reason to keep going on with her life. The movie is incredibly sad but it’s not without warmth, humor and joy. For example Elvira’s constant companion and best friend in her last days is Zora (Ingrid Caven) who is almost always around with a mood lifting joke or words of encouragement. There’s also the very frequent gags that come out of nowhere like an awkward office dance sequence where Anton Saitz (Gottfried John) Elvira’s distant and unrequited lover who may have given her the idea to go to Casablanca and get Bottom Surgery in the first place leads Elvira and his boys in a group dance from some musical movie they’re all watching.
This movie made almost entirely by Fassbinder himself is about the suicide of his lover Armin Meier who Elvira seems in part to be a stand in for.
As an expression of pure grief and confusion over being the surviver of such a devastating act as suicide the movie I daresay is perfect. The scene in the office building where Elvira watches a Man hang himself after he gives a life affirming monologue about suicide to her is one of my favorite moments in the movie with how contradictory his words are and how desperate you can see the movie and Elvira yearn for meaning and hope in the act.
As a narrative about A Trans Woman I find the movie a lot more complex and often flawed. Take the origin of Elvira’s journey to Casablanca for surgery as an example. No Person ever let alone any Trans ones gets GRS on a whim like that. The notion that we do do that so suddenly is a not uncommon myth I’ve even had thrown at myself occasionally. As Another more extreme example early in the movie we hear Elvira in voice over expositing the backstory of her transition and early adult life to us while her and Zora stand in a meat processing plant watching cows get butchered and processed. Wether it was intentional or not that scene draws ghastly parallels between butchering animals and Trans Healthcare it is really disgusting. Also, while I freely admit Spengler’s performance is utterly enrapturing the fact a Cis Man plays a Trans Woman really makes this feel on some level like I’m being made a spectacle and that Women like me aren’t seen as Women just Men in drag.
On the other hand the film accurately depicts a lot of stuff right intentionally or otherwise. I’m constantly aware that while I’m a Woman and I know that other people see me not as a Woman or even as a Man but as some weird other who getting names and pronouns consistently correct for is somehow impossible for them. Even some friends and family of mine who are supportive look at me the way Elvira’s wife Irene (Elisabeth Trissenaar) looks at her. The look that says “I don’t love you, I only love the false you pre transition and my love for him. For that ghost in a human body is what compels me to love and support you, but I’ll never see you as you. You’ll always be [deadname] to me and just know that when I slip up and call you the wrong name its only out of love.” I hate that look it hits like a knife in your heart. I hate that I can’t say anything about it to them because “they’re trying.” I hate the knowledge that there’s a sad scared little girl version of me who exists in their brain that will never get to transition. I hate that I feel Elvira’s total alienation sometimes even among friends and family. I especially hate that like her I’m so desperate to feel love that I both somehow miss the wellspring of love I do have and that I frantically go through every performance I can find looking for the one that will get me what I want even though society and individuals in it will not and seemingly can not fill that hole in me.
In summation this movie is absolutely exquisite and heartbreakingly relatable despite of it’s glaring flaws as Trans Representation. I don’t know what compelled Fassbinder to equate Meier’s suicide with that of Elvira’s suicide but even as I question his judgement I just want to sit down with him and cry with him and share in our grief over these events. Thanks for reading.