The atmosphere of In a Year of Thirteen Moons is dark, claustrophobic, filmed in hot colors, often at bizarre, cubist angles and heavy with Weltschmerz. Time and again it pauses for long, philosophical contemplation of the distastefulness of being and the seduction of ending—maunderings of the sort I thought even the Germans had renounced in our time….
Fassbinder mistrusts the social system as profoundly as he despairs of human relationships. He expresses this most explicitly through the history of Saitz, who had risen from black-market trickster to whoremaster to real estate millionaire and whom Elvira runs to earth in one of his vast but empty high-rises, locked in with a few henchmen and engaged in a childish parody of an old Jerry Lewis comedy he apparently keeps running endlessly on a TV set. This occupation I take to be a warning to tycoons that the fate of Howard Hughes awaits them….
In a Year of Thirteen Moons is appalling, a delirium of sensibility turned rancid. Most of us have, one time or another, felt abused, traduced, godforsaken; one develops a resistance. But for those who live under the sway of the moon—and Fassbinder clearly includes himself among them—resistance may be hard to sustain, and ceremonies must be evoked. This film, it could well be, is his way of defying his demon. Like Genet, I suspect, he creates out of the worst he can find in himself. (p. 797)
Robert Hatch, "Films: 'In a Year of Thirteen Moons'," in The Nation (copyright 1980 The Nation magazine, The Nation Associates, Inc.), Vol. 230, No. 25, June 28, 1980, p. 797.