The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979)

“It’s wrong to give all your love to only one person, Grandpa. If you don’t have potatoes, you eat turnips. When the turnips are gone, you eat gruel. But every girl loves her one and only. He goes to war; five months later he’s dead, and you mourn the rest of your life. Does that make sense to you, Grandpa? It drowns you.”

‘The Marriage of Maria Braun’, directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder in 1979, is a West German historical drama. Set in 1943, Hanna Schygulla plays Maria, the wife of a soldier, Hermann Braun, played by Klaus Löwitsch, who disappears in action. Believing him to be dead, she starts a relationship with a black American solder called Bill, but Klaus unexpectedly returns and Bill is killed. Klaus goes to prison, and whilst there, Maria beings another relationship with a wealthy industrialist called Karl, and over the years Klaus is incarcerated, his wife settles with Karl, but covertly Karl has made a deal with Klaus, to stay away from her when she is released in return for his inheritance. This deal, and the revelation of it following Karl’s death, has dire consequences. It’s the most accessible Fassbinder movie I’ve seen, almost conventional in terms of narrative and style. As with many of his other films, a female character is at its centre, and Maria dominates this movie, going through the motions of the story with a curious impassivity. With Fassbinder I find it difficult to like his films so I rely on appreciating his approach and skill. I like the way his background as an avant-garde theatre director come across in his movies, there’s a real sense of improvisation and a feeling of spontaneity in both the performances and direction. The tone of the film is grim and sparse. Even with a period movie like this, his films feel intractably bound to the 1970s, with a colour palette of browns and greys. It’s a film about the conflict between sexual freedom and incarceration either in prison or in marriage.

Would I recommend it? Yes – despite the fact I’m not a fan of the look and feel of his films, you can’t deny the skill and intriguing approach of Fassbinder.


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