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In 1974, Rainer Werner Fassbinder made Fox and His Friends, inspired by his relationship with working-class butcher Armin Meier. When Fassbinder dumped his longtime lover in 1978, the distraught Meier committed suicide, and Fassbinder fell into a deep depression. Whether driven by guilt or helplessness, the director drew from the experience for another film, the story of transsexual Elvira Weishaupt (Volker Spengler in a haunting performance). Elvira, formerly Erwin, is a working-class butcher who changed her sex for a lover who promptly left her. She now spends her days wandering the alienating industrial Frankfurt cityscape while reminiscing about her painful past. Coming after the lush, soft-focus beauty of the international hit The Marriage of Maria Braun, the bleak landscape of Frankfurt and Elvira's harsh, stylized flashbacks are almost shocking. The faint of heart should be warned of a gruesome slaughterhouse scene where cattle are killed and butchered--a display of cruelty that echoes the emotional brutality of Elvira's past. It's one of Fassbinder's most personal projects (in addition to writing and directing he serves as cinematographer, editor, and set designer), a strikingly stylized film and one of his most emotionally wrenching works. Meier may have inspired Elvira, but Fassbinder invests himself into the character, and his identification creates a powerful, painful portrait drenched in despair.

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FANT7039 In a Year of 13 Moons VHS (1979/Rainer Werner Fassbinder) $11.99