A Man Like Eva (1984)

“We’re on the edge of a volcano.”

How does a director even begin to approach a project as impossible as making a film about the life of the fascinatingly complex German director, Rainer Werner Fassbinder? Fassbinder was an extremely prolific New German Cinema director, and he completed his films at an almost alarming rate before his untimely death in 1982 at age 37. Fassbinder remains an enigma, and his personality cannot be easily dissected and transferred to the screen. He was an intensely brilliant man capable of the most wanton cruelty, and yet full of passionate beliefs. Fassbinder’s personal life was notoriously difficult. He was a tortured soul with rather extreme personal and political beliefs (he knew some members of the Baader-Meinhof group). Of all the things I’ve read about Fassbinder, I don’t think anyone ever claimed he was easy to understand, easy to know or easy to like–although he did inspire great personal loyalty and love from many who knew him.

Director Radu Gabrea attempts to tell the story of Fassbinder in the film A Man Like Eva by sensibly choosing to concentrate on a slice of Fassbinder’s life. In A Man Like Eva Fassbinder (Eva Mattes) is directing Camille. He coldly discards one lover, Ali, and attempts to secure another lover– actor, Walter (Werner Stocker). Walter shrugs off Fassbinder’s advances but seems interested in leading lady, Gudrun (Lisa Kreuzer). Fassbinder precipitously marries Gudrun but is consequently cuckolded by Walter.

One of the reasons Fassbinder was so prolific is that he surrounded himself with an entire crew of people who understood him. This is marvelously re-created in A Man Like Eva. Fassbinder holds court amongst his merry band like some sort of despot. He vacillates between cruelty and self-imposed isolation, and the film succeeds very well in creating Fassbinder’s character, intensity and death-obsessed world.

On the down side, actress Eva Mattes plays Fassbinder. And while she does an incredible job of imitatating Fassbinder’s mannerisms (and the fake beard helps), ultimately this casting does not work. It seems most preposterous during the masked ball scene when Fassbinder dances with Walter. Fassbinder was a bull of a man–domineering, vigourous and loud. When Eva Mattes portrays one of Fassbinder’s frequent tirades, she is shrill and shrewish. Her voice just doesn’t replace Fassbinder’s booming rants. Professional reviewers seemed to find the casting of a woman in a male role as some sort of coup, and while I can’t fault the performance–it’s extraordinary–the female voice cannot continue the deceit.

Also, the film is NOT strictly factual. I have a rather difficult time with the notion of altering facts about Fassbinder’s troubled, fascinating life. The truth is that there were suicides and stabbings etc. galore in real life, so it seems unnecessary to fabricate some aspects of the film’s plot, and it’s a shame that the plot is not closer to the truth. For Fassbinder’s biography, I recommend the book, Fassbinder: the Life and Work of a Provocative Genius by Christian Braad Thomsen.

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Filed under Fassbinder, German

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