The daughter of actress Margit Symo and composer Willy Mattes, Eva Mattes has been acting on stage and in front of the camera since she was twelve. In Germany, she’s primarily known for her role as police superintendent Klara Blum in the wildly popular Sunday night series, Tatort, but internationally, she’ll probably always be associated with the New German Cinema of the 70s and early 80s.
She was still a teenager when she appeared as a Vietnamese rape victim in Michael Verhoeven‘s o.k. (1970), which caused an uproar at the Berlinale resulting in the dissolution of the competition jury—no prizes were awarded that year.
In 1979, Mattes won a Best Supporting Actress award in Cannes for her performance in Werner Herzog‘s Woyzeck. She’d previously worked with Herzog on Stroszek (1977) and in 1980, their daughter, Hanna Mattes, was born. That same year, she appeared in Helma Sanders-Brahms‘s Germany, Pale Mother and Percy Adlon’s Céleste.
Congratulating Mattes on her 60th birthday, the Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation notes that she “gave an impressive performance as the protagonist in the film Jail Bait (Wildwechsel ), which is based on the play of the same name by Franz Xaver Kroetz. As the underage Hanni, she seeks refuge from her repressive parents in the arms of an older man, thereby giving rise to a catastrophe. It is a role in which Mattes lends a disturbing cold-bloodedness to the figure of the naïve, rather ingenuous girl that she often played in this period. Other Fassbinder films in which she appears include Eight Hours Are Not a Day , Effi Briest  and In a Year of Thirteen Moons .” Let’s add, too, The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972) and Mother Küsters Goes to Heaven (1975).
Two years after Fassbinder’s death, Mattes played him in A Man Like Eva (1984). Vincent Canby wrote in the New York Times: “Made up to look like the later Fassbinder, complete with scraggly whiskers and wearing the familiar granny glasses, jeans, leather jacket and slouch hat, she is a nightmare vision of Fassbinder. It is not, however, a drag impersonation. It’s a bifocal performance for, though Miss Mattes looks like Fassbinder, the voice is always recognized as that of Miss Mattes. The point is not to call attention to Fassbinder’s homosexuality, but to the performance aspects of his life and his work. To this Fassbinder, every moment is a scene, whether it’s being recorded by the camera or being played for keeps in life.”
Listening (1’47”). “Something about Eva Mattes in the Halo of Exploding Street Lamps...” by set fire to flames.