Starring: Gudrun Landgrebe
(also available with English dubbing)
Length: 106 minutes
Here on this Oscars Weekend I got to thinking, what if there was an awards category for “Best rendering of a Dominatrix in a movie”.
Over the years I’ve seen some very good portrayals as I’ve reviewed movies for “Predominant”. And I’ve seen some really bad depictions as well. But if I had to choose a winner for “Best rendering of a Dominatrix in a movie”, regardless of the year, I believe I would go with Gudrun Landgrebe in the 1983 German film “Die Flambierte Frau”.
Gudrun Landgrebe was a little known German actress but “Die Flambierte Frau” gave her instant international fame. While her Domination scenes were short and they only made up a small portion of the film, Gudrun was truly remarkable to watch. Her look, her intensity, her seduction and her raw female power were absolutely captivating.
“Die Flambierte Frau” was a big box-office hit when it opened in Germany in 1983. However, when it was released in the United States under the title “Woman in Flames”, it failed to catch on. Perhaps the poor job of dubbing the English voiceovers contributed to the lack of enthusiasm in the United States. The film may have done better with subtitles. Or just maybe it was lost in translation when it came to the films content. The German audience and movie critics were much more fervent in their appreciation of the film, even if they couldn’t agree on the film’s meaning. One thing is for certain, if you were at all interested in female domination, “Woman in Flames” was must see art.
The movie begins with housewife Eva (Gudrun Landgrebe) walking out on her possessive husband after a dinner-party. Eva is bored with her life. As a stay-at-home housewife, she has few skills. Prior to moving out, she confesses her boredom to her husband. She also lashes out about her frustration of feeling helpless;
“I can’t boil an egg … I can’t drive a car.”
Lacking both money and a career, the beautiful Eva meets up with a Madame and inquires about becoming a call-girl. She triumphs over her initial nervousness and becomes a successful call-girl with an upscale clientele. Soon she has plenty of customers.
Eva hangs out with the other call-girls and through them she meets a charming man named Chris (Mathieu Carriere), who works as a Gigolo. Chris is bisexual and he offers his services to both men and women. Eva falls in love with Chris and the physical attraction is mutual. The primary plot of the film is about the relationship between Eva and Chris. One of the numerous sub-plots (and what I will focus on in my review) is Eva’s journey into the world of FemDom.
Chris and Eva decide to share an apartment, he works downstairs and she works upstairs. Eva does both In-calls and Out-calls. It is one of her Out-calls that changes both her career path and her life.
A client requests an Out-call and Eva shows up at his house. He has Eva wear his wife’s apron over her lingerie and he has her do the dishes. He orders her around, playing the part of a chauvinistic male. Perhaps this scene reminded Eva a little too much of her former marriage and her ex-husband, but regardless of her motivation, Eva turns the tables by taking off the apron and ordering the male client to put on the symbol of domestic housework, i.e. the apron.
The man is surprised but he is also excited by her dominance. He puts on the apron and Eva begins to order him around. She puts lipstick on him and begins to feminize him. He loves it. So does Eva.
And with that, she has discovered her niche in the world of high-class prostitution. She would no longer have to sleep with her clients. Eva becomes a Dominatrix as she quickly realizes that FemDom is a way to obtain a higher income than a regular call-girl.
Gudrun Landgrebe gives a wonderful performance as Eva. Her provocative smile lights up the screen yet her dominant persona is both chilling and arousing when she dons her Dominatrix garb. Gudrun is both beautiful and sophisticated, a perfect combination for the character of Eva.
One of the best scenes is when we see Eva doing an In-call at her apartment. Eva is wearing a leather outfit but it’s covered by a see-through negligee. At this time, we are still in the dark to her metamorphosis. She leads her client up the stairs to her section of the apartment.
“Get undressed” Eva commands with her hands on her hips. She looks over her client and begins to verbally assault him in a seductive yet firm voice.
“You like to accost women at bus stops and whisper to them how sexy you think they are until they begin to blush. You make obscene phone calls at night to women you don’t even know.”
Walking towards him, hands still on her hips in a dominant posture, she continues.
“Now tell me what you’ve always dreamed of. What excites you?”
She walks away, squats down, teasing him, revealing her ass through the negligee.
“You’ll get nothing from me. Nothing! You’ll never possess a woman like me.”
Walking toward him again, she examines him, staring intently at him.
“And when you leave here. You will not even have touched me.”
She removes her negligee, revealing her leather outfit which consists of spiked heel boots, leather gauntlet gloves, a leather bra that traces the outline of her exposed breasts, a leather garter that attaches by a small chain to her leather panties, with her ass and thighs covered in fishnet stockings. Eva is sexy and desirable yet also intimidating.
She walks ever so close to him, teasing him but being in total control, thus he knows not to dare touch her.
He begins to confess his secret to her. He tells her of a German barmaid he once met and how he fantasizes about her. In his fantasy he wants the barmaid to take him behind the bar where she would force him to orally pleasure her while she tramples on his hands with her wooden clogs.
Eva looks at him with piercing eyes as he confesses his submissive desires. He gets down on the floor, laying prostate under a foot-table as he continues to tell her of his secret. Eva commences to trample on his hands with her spiked heels. He moans in pain yet it is pain mixed with ecstasy.
In a later scene we see Eva posing in a mirror in another Dominatrix outfit complete with leather corset, gloves and boots, awaiting her next client. Once he arrives, we see her placing a collar on him.
We later see her whipping yet another client who is bound. It is now obvious that Eva is specializing in Female Domination.
The movie cuts back and forth and while we see Eva dominating her clients, we also see Chris having sex with both men and women. Chris knows women. The women that pay for his services are not seeking anything wild or kinky. They want to be touched and romanced. They are married but they want to be unfaithful because their husbands are unfaithful, if not literally then emotionally.
Chris is bi-sexual and he has a gay lover, Kurt (Hanns Zischler), a close friend he’s been involved with for twelve years. Kurt must keep their relationship private.
Eva knows of Kurt but she is in love with Chris. She hopes they have a future beyond sharing an apartment. Chris likewise has feelings for Eva, so much so that he tells Kurt that he wants to take some time off from seeing him. Kurt is upset and asks Eva to leave Chris, because from his point of view, Eva doesn’t know Chris or understand Chris the way he does. Eva ignores Kurt’s plea.
Chris can hear what goes on upstairs when Eva is entertaining a client. He doesn’t understand the sounds which are being transmitted from her room because they are different than the normal sounds of sex. Chris is becoming jealous of Eva’s clients as he can sense the chemistry she has with them. Chris starts to question Eva about her money. He wants to know why her clients pay her more than what is normal for a call-girl. He wants to know why her clients tip her so generously. Chris wants to know what Eva is doing with these men, what stirs them to such depths of financial gratitude?
For his part, Chris understands the sex business as he’s been a Gigolo for many years but he is baffled at Eva’s success. When he questions her about it, Eva tells Chris that she merely treats her clients cruelly and they love her for it. Chris is perplexed.
Eva’s best friend is a call-girl named Yvonne (Gabriele Lafari). Eva confesses to Yvonne “the other day I was whipping a client who was chained down. It started very harmlessly, as always, but then I couldn’t stop, it was just like a compulsion. Have you ever been scared of yourself like that?”
Yvonne doesn’t know how to answer Eva other than to say “I refuse to see masochists”. But not Eva. She specializes in dominating men and she loves doing it.
Chris uses an audio tape recorder to record one of Eva’s sessions. When he plays back the tape, he is shocked at how cruel she is with her client. The client begs her to go light because he can’t tell his wife that he fell down the stairs again (which was meant to explain his bruises). Eva shows no mercy and orders him to prepare to receive his punishment. From the tape we don’t know what she is doing to him but by his groans we can surmise that whatever it is, it is quite painful.
Although he outwardly acts shocked and upset at Eva’s brand of “professional sex”, inwardly Chris is curious and, whether he admits or not, he is aroused.
Chris sneaks upstairs and watches Eva dominate one of her clients. Eva notices that Chris is watching, she makes eye contact with him, but she just ignores him as she continues to place her client in tight bondage. She attaches weights to her client’s nipples and chokes him with a chain that she forces in his mouth.
Chris watches and is fascination but he is also scared. How can the beautiful Eva, the woman with the winning smile and sweet personality, be so cruel? Chris can’t stand it any longer, so he runs out of the room. Unfazed, Eva continues with her session.
After the session, as the client thanks Eva and begins to exit the apartment, Chris attacks him and warns him to never come back again as he throws him out the door.
Eva confronts Chris by saying “Did you see everything you wanted to?”
The next night, over dinner, Chris tells Eva that he wants to marry her and have a child with her. Eva is open to the idea of having a child with him but she tells him she is no longer the marrying type. Eva then describes to Chris a dream, a dream she had where she was whipping him. Chris asks whether or not he liked it. Eva tells him that in her dream, he most definitely enjoyed it.
I found this scene to be the most pivotal part of the film. It signaled a significant change in Eva. Before, she would have jumped at the prospect of marrying Chris. But her dream reveals her new attitude. Any man in Eva’s life would have to submit to her. No man would ever possess her again.
The roles become reversed. Before it was Eva desiring Chris but now it is Chris wanting Eva, yet Eva begins to resist him. What she is in fact resisting is another man trying to control her. Chris wants to know where she is going when she leaves the apartment and Eva begins to resent him. Eva starts to believe that perhaps she doesn’t love Chris but rather what he represented to her, a charming man who is a great lover, in other words the man of her youthful dreams. But things have changed for Eva. She no longer wants to marry the man of her youthful dreams. She is now an independent woman who enjoys dominating men. What she tells her clients also applies to Chris. No man is worthy of her and no man will ever possess her.
Without telling her, Chris invests all their money in the art gallery-restaurant of his dreams. For Eva this is the absolute end.
''I fell in love with a gigolo,'' she says with disdain. ''I don't want to grow old with the owner of a restaurant.''
Eva decides to leave Chris. He becomes desperate and begs Eva to kiss him. She refuses and he hits her. The movie takes a bizarre turn when we see Chris pouring alcohol on Eva and lighting her on fire. The movie is headed toward a horrible ending until we see the next scene. We see Eva meeting Yvonne at a bar. We realize that Chris was only fantasizing that he had killed Eva. Although the film is not clear, I believe Chris was visualizing his internal feelings that he was deeply hurt because Eva had rejected him. Some critics came to the conclusion that he had actually tried to kill her but she escaped. That to me is impossible because she would have suffered major burns all over her body. The next time we see Eva, she is as beautiful as ever.
The movie ends with Eva getting the last laugh (literally) as Chris has Eva and Yvonne physically removed from a Gay bar he has opened with Kurt. Eva finds it amusing and her laughter signals her victory. The independent woman has won.
Director-writer-producer Robert Van Ackerman billed “Die Flambierte Frau” as a romantic drama. The film was popular in West Germany and its critics delved into what they perceived as the cultural and sexual politics of the film. Some said the film describes an obsessive love story where love is nothing but a commodity. Others said the film was a look at modern Berlin and the complexity of the new psyche in West Germany, where money can buy anything except true love.
To me, “Die Flambierte Frau” is about a beautiful, intelligent and sexual woman who grows tired of male dominance and she uses her sexuality to gain the upper hand. It is no accident that Eva requests to become a call-girl. Eva wasn’t dragged into this profession kicking and screaming. She chose this profession and she used it as a means for self-examination and self-discovery.
What she discovers is that sex needn’t place her in the submissive position to men. Eva discovers that sexual power can turn the tables and instead of selling her body for money or affection or love, she could make men pay her for what they really needed, namely female domination. In the end, Eva found the greatest commodities of all; self-worth and self-respect.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars