Rainer Werner Fassbinder died prematurely in 1982 at the age of 37. The official reason was heart failure resulting from a dangerous mix of sleeping pills and cocaine. Up until his untimely demise he was recognised as the leading light in the New German Cinema, a period of German film making that lasted from the late 1960’s into the 1980’s, which also included, amongst others, Werner Herzog and Wim Wenders and like similar movements in other countries still has a lasting influence to this day. Fassbinder was a workaholic and in his 15 year career completed more than 40 feature length films, two television film series, three short plays, four video productions; twenty-four stage plays, four radio plays and in his spare time took part in some 36 acting roles. He was quoted as saying that in his opinion work alleviates loneliness. He was a controversial figure and his desire to provoke and disturb was reflected in both his private life and his film work.
My first experience of Fassbinder’s body of work was his 15-hour masterpiece Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980) the longest single narrative feature film, made up of 13 parts plus an epilogue based on the Alfred Doblin novel of the same name. It’s an in depth study of a character called Franz Biberkopf, the area of Berlin where he resides and the characters that inhabit his world. I have promised myself to revisit this wonderful piece of work one day, but in the mean time I have managed to catch another of this directors oeuvre, 1978’s The Marriage of Maria Braun. This social melodrama is a story of sexuality, passion and women’s power over men set in post war Germany. It focuses on the attractive Maria Braun who during an allied bombing raid marries a soldier. Maria and her new husband manage to spend half a day and one night in each other’s company before Hermann has to return to the front line. When the war ends Maria is informed that her husband is missing presumed dead. Realising that she will have to make her own way in the austere post war world starts work in a bar that is frequented by American soldiers. Lonely and sexually frustrated she has an affair with a kind, good-looking black sergeant that ends with her falling pregnant. Hermann, alive and well, returns home to find his wife in the arms of her American lover. A ruckus takes place which ends with Maria killing her black lover and Hermann taking the blame, for which he is found guilty of murder and sent to prison for a crime he did not commit. Being along again Maria, ever resourceful, embarks on a long-term affair with her new boss, the rich and successful industrialist Karl Oswald, with the honest belief that she is working to provide a home for Hermann when he is finally released from prison.
Maria Braun is portrayed by one of the most prominent New Wave German actress’s Hanna Schygulla, who won the Best Actress Award at the 29th Berlin International Film Festival. She has worked with Fassbinder on a number of occasions but her role in this remarkable movie oozes passion and sexuality and made her a German screen icon. This is one of those films where the director, his crew and the cast are all on top form. It turned out to be Fassbinder’s most successful film both critically and commercially.
|The ever resourceful Maria Braun.|