A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Marriage of Maria Braun (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1979)

Fassbinder's inspiration was the Hollywood "woman's picture," which made stars of Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, and Bette Davis in the 1930s and '40s, but more specifically the 1950s version directed by his fellow German, Douglas Sirk (born Hans Detlef Sierck). Sirk brought a distinct style, including vivid Technicolor and high fashion, to his tales of women struggling to assert themselves in a decade usually known for its backlash against liberated women. They were vehicles for actresses like Jane Wyman (Magnificent Obsession, 1954, and All That Heaven Allows, 1955), Lauren Bacall and Dorothy Malone (Written on the Wind, 1956), and Lana Turner (Imitation of Life, 1959). Hanna Schygulla evokes all of them and more in a bravura performance in The Marriage of Maria Braun, in which she gets to suffer through World War II and its aftermath, and to triumph in the postwar German Wirtschaftswunder of the 1950s and '60s. It's a sardonic story about a woman who claims to be faithful in her fashion to Hermann Braun (Klaus Löwitsch), the soldier she married during an air raid in 1943, despite her affairs with a black American soldier (George Eagles) and a French industrialist (Karl Oswald). In Fassbinder's hands, the story of Maria Braun becomes overlaid with the history of Germany after the war, including scenes in which the dialogue is often partly obscured by radio speeches by German politicians like Konrad Adenauer, the architect of German recovery. "I prefer making miracles rather than waiting for them," Maria proclaims at one point. Fassbinder's portrait of Maria is occasionally elliptical: We don't know, for example, whether she aborted the child she conceived with the American soldier or lost it in childbirth, partly because she seems indifferent to the fact, and Fassbinder leaves it up to us to decide whether the explosion in which she dies at the end is an accident or suicide. The screenplay by Pea Fröhlich and Peter Märthesheimer was based on an idea by Fassbinder, who also contributed to the dialogue. The cinematography is by Michael Ballhaus.

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