A powerful if narratively-dense film imbued with a devastating sense of cruel irony, with Fassbinder’s masterful control over sound especially striking.
Dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder
1979 | Germany | Drama | 120 mins | 1.66:1 | German & English
M18 (passed clean) for nudity
Cast: Hanna Schygulla, Klaus Löwitsch, Ivan Desny
Plot: A World War II widow seeks to adjust to life in postwar Germany.
Awards: Won Silver Bear – Best Actress & Outstanding Single Achievement (Berlin). Nom. for 1 Golden Globe – Best Foreign Film
Source: Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation
Subject Matter: Moderate/Slightly Mature
Narrative Style: Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse
(Reviewed at German Film Festival – first published 26 Nov 2017)
Starring Hanna Schygulla, who won Best Actress at the Berlin International Film Festival, and is Fassbinder’s favourite leading lady, the film is a showcase of her acting ability in the titular role as the newly-wedded Mrs. Maria Braun.
In a sensational prologue with opening titles, we are greeted with a barrage of explosions and carnage, as Maria and her soldier lover attempt to ink their union on paper with a terrified priest. Mr. Braun returns to war and disappears, presumably dead.
With her marriage not consummated and suddenly becoming a widow, Maria faces a life of potential solitude. That’s all I should say—I leave you to discover this narratively-dense melodrama with rich intellectual pickings, and intricate if unexpected plot developments.
In Maria Braun, the first of his BDR (Bundesrepublik Deutschland) trilogy which includes Lola (1981) and Veronika Voss (1982), Fassbinder has made a powerful film about a woman who tries to rebuild her life through a myriad of ways, including the art of seduction.
“I’m a master of deceit: a capitalist tool by day, and by night an agent of the proletarian masses – the Mata Hari of the economic miracle.”
By extension, her personification of West Germany offers a mirror to a post-war society attempting to raise itself out of the ashes to become an economic powerhouse, while the past continues to haunt all.
Told over the course of a decade, Maria Braun could be one of Fassbinder’s most encompassing and intriguing character studies, depicted with his trademark coldness and devastating sense of cruel irony, yet Schygulla’s remarkably layered performance conveys enough to let us know how she feels, only to stop us short of peering into her complex if schizophrenic mind.
What struck me most about Fassbinder’s film is his vibrant use of sound. There are often a few layers to the diegetic soundscape, with some sounds sometimes happening offscreen or overlapping from preceding or future scenes. Diegetic music also commingles with non-diegetic music, the latter heard frequently in jarring ways as if to suggest the theatricality of the film’s staging.
In Maria Braun’s bravura finale, Fassbinder accompanies the closing stages with a radio recording featuring voice commentary on the historic 1954 World Cup football final match between West Germany and Hungary (the “Miracle of Bern”), symbolising the gallantry and heroism of men in the fields, while women, in contrast, are bearers of heartache. Fassbinder has never made a more relentless if dignified film about women and the postwar condition.