A real-life German singer and actress (she married filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder) unrolls some fabulous name-dropping in a lightly fictionalized series of reminiscences written by a man named Charles (a.k.a. author Schuhl), who lives with her.
Singing for the Führer’s troops at age five makes material for Ingrid Caven’s lifelong running gag—and the definitive event novelist Schuhl returns to again and again in recounting her life. Ingrid is a plucky girl from Saarland with a terrible skin problem and a wondrous voice, which propels her through classical training and on to accolades on the Munich stage (that’s when she meets a lonely boy in black leather who wants to make films—the Wunderkind of German film). Over the years, Ingrid will mingle with the likes of Andy Warhol and Yves Saint Laurent, and even become embroiled with the Baader Meinhof Gang. A sensational Paris debut and suddenly the “little hurting girl in borrowed clothes” becomes really famous, meeting Bette Davis and Satie, flying about the world as the wife of Fassbinder, who turns out to be a drug-using homosexual. In telling Ingrid’s story, Charles is a kind of misanthropic alter ego: he follows the singer around, has affairs of his own, reports a lot of hearsay and snatched dialogue, but provides little sense of interior life. Charles/Schuhl is in fact an adoring, hagiographic narrator, and, in the end he presents a sequence of elliptical reminisces (orally recounted, evidently) rather than an organic novel you can sink your teeth into. The climax comes at Fassbinder’s untimely funeral (he was 38), when, with all his actresses linked up front as if at a premiere, a posthumous piece of paper is discovered detailing Fassbinder’s outline for a script about the life of Ingrid Caven, “the woman he loved.”
A historical record, to be sure, however unsettling and erratically recounted, but this 2000 Goncourt winner details much glam and little substance.