Dec 172023

A Woman in Flames (Die Flambierte Frau) is a 1983 German film about a woman who leaves her husband to become an escort.

Eva (Gudrun Landgrebe) is a housewife whose husband criticizes and disdains her. When he ignores her at the party she set up, Eva suddenly packs a bag and walks out.

After learning how to be an escort from a friend, Eva hooks up with Chris, a male escort who sees both men and women. He aspires to run a restaurant with an art gallery.

Eva moves in with Chris, and they become like a husband and wife who are both sex workers.

On one of Eva’s outcalls, the client is a married man who gives her his wife’s apron to wear while she washes dishes. In other words, she’s performing housework for an unappreciative man again, except that she is wearing only lingerie under her apron. Annoyed, Eva flips the script on the client, having him wear the apron and putting lipstick on him, much to his pleasure.

After this, Eva appears to shift to pro domme work exclusively. Her dominatrix persona is cold and distant, emphasizing to her clients how desirable and unattainable she is.

Eva’s financial success as a pro domme coincides with Chris stumbling in his own work. He complains that he is getting too old to appeal to gay men, and a montage of him with his clients suggests he has come to treat this as drudgery.

Even though they are both sex workers, Chris gets jealous and judgmental of her. From his perspective, she’s overly familiar with her clients. He also fears that he may become economically dependent on her. This puts a strain on their relationship.

Eventually, Chris sinks all of their money into his dream restaurant, against Eva’s wishes. She says she would rather be the partner of a gigolo than a restaurateur. She decides to break up with him.

As Eva prepares to leave, Chris punches her out, dowses her in alcohol and lights her on fire. This is apparently just his fantasy, as Eva is completely unharmed in the next scene.

The film suggests that sex work and marriage are both transactions of emotional labor for money. In Eva’s view, sex work, and particularly pro domination, is a more favorable exchange than marriage. Being a pro domme means she can put up a persona and deny the client any emotional intimacy.

Most of the research I’ve read on female domination work (e.g. Danielle Lindemann’s Dominatrix (2012) and Nathalie Lugand’s A psychodynamic approach to female domination in BDSM relationships: sexuality between pleasure and work (2023)) suggest pro domination requires a different kind of emotional labor than vanilla sex work, but not necessarily less. It may be that Eva finds this particular type of exchange better for her.

Eva’s experiences suggest that men cannot accept being equaled by women, much less surpassed, in any field. The same dynamics of male insecurity play out multiple times with her.

Like several of the films about pro dommes I’ve explored (e.g. Personal Services (1987)), A Woman in Flames is more about sex work and gender relations than about BDSM per se. There’s no attempt to explore the characters of Eva’s masochistic clients.

  2 Responses to “A Woman in Flames (Die Flambierte Frau) (1983): The Celluloid Dungeon”

  1. What ultimately happens to Eva and Chris? Did she leave him and get her money back?

    • The last scene is Eva going to a cafe to meet with a fellow sex worker. The staff tell her she’s banned, on Chris’ orders, but she goes in anyway and sits down. The staff pick up her and the chair she’s sitting in and deposit her on the sidewalk outside. She just laughs it off. So, I would presume she did leave Chris and didn’t get her money back, but she’s confident she can support herself.

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