DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
A WOMAN IN FLAMES (Die Flambierte Frau) (director/writer/producer: Robert Van Ackerman; screenwriter: Catharina Zwerenz; cinematographer: Jürgen Jürges; editor: Tanja Schmidbauer; music: Peer Raben; cast: Gudrun Landgrebe (Eva), Mathieu Carriere (Chris), Gabriele Lafari (Yvonne), Hanns Zischler (Kurt), Matthias Fuchs (Markus); Runtime: 106; MPAA Rating: NR; Libra Cinema 5: 1983-West Germany-in German with English subtitles)

 
"The emotional impact of the film was about as flat as a pancake."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Director-writer-producer Robert Van Ackerman creates a curious romance drama that is filled with many strange pleasures that unfortunately eluded me. The film in its simplicity is about an upper-middle-class woman who gives up her comfortable but boring life to be a prostitute. In its complexity it tries to get at the new psyche in West Germany, where money can buy anything. It was a big box-office hit when it opened in Germany, but failed to catch on in the States. The version I saw was dubbed into English, and it was such an atrocious job that it took away a lot from the film.

Housewife Eva (Gudrun Landgrebe) walks out on her possessive husband during an uninteresting dinner-party after drinking a glass of wine and almost immediately becomes a high-class Berlin prostitute, finding freedom in this curious move. Soon she has plenty of customers and a male bisexual prostitute gigolo lover named Chris (Mathieu Carriere), with whom she shares a flat--until he shows signs of being just as possessive as her ex-husband. Now that Eva has switched roles and has entered into the world of the doers and the chic, new emotional problems arise that she hadn't foreseen. 

Van Ackerman is more interested in examining the German post-war benefactors of the new economic prosperity to see how they are handling their newly found riches than in prostitution. He concludes that Germany on a whole has become comfortable as a consumer driven society and their sex life is cold and without love, and their culture tends to be bourgeois. In other words, they have more than they ever had but their true enjoyment of life is questionable. 

The emotional impact of the film was about as flat as a pancake, as the main characters were more provocative than  endearing. The film's only saving grace is sexy Gudrun's chilling performance, where her struggles to find both emotional satisfaction and independence was well performed. The only catch is that to gain such freedom she has to sell her body, which is the film's main point as it compares the new German middle-class to the prostitute's lifestyle -- each of them motivated by money. But the film is never quite clear if its aims are to uncover sexual politics or class issues or psychological problems or whatnot, as Van Ackerman skewers all with his sharp satire but leaves us no characters we feel he cares about except as symbols.

In this film, the title tells all on how the lady in question will express her displeasure with the prevailing conditions in Berlin society.

REVIEWED ON 1/21/2004        GRADE: C

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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