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The Marriage Of Maria Braun
cast: Hanna Schygulla and Klaus Lowitsch

director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

120 minutes (tbc) 1978
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Arrow DVD Region 2 retail
[released 7 August]

RATING: 9/10
reviewed by J.C. Hartley
Although never a signatory to the 1962 Oberhausen Manifesto, which rejected Germany's cinematic past declaring, "Papas Kino is dead" (the 'old film' or 'the cinema of the fathers' is dead), director Rainer Werner Fassbinder was one of the brightest stars in the New German Cinema that followed. The French Nouvelle Vague and the British 'free cinema' of the late 1950s influenced this movement's auteur directors, and their initial concern was how modern Germany was coming to terms with its recent past. The proliferation of former Nazis in public life and an increasingly repressive government gave ammunition to the creative output of Fassbinder, Werner Herzog, Volker Schlondorff, Margarethe von Trotta and Wim Wenders; the same incitement that proved to be the catalyst for the direct action of the Red Army Faction of the so called Baader-Meinof Gang.

The Marriage Of Maria Braun opens with a wedding ceremony during an air raid; Hitler's portrait is blown through the Town Hall wall and Maria's husband Hermann (Klaus Lowitsch) has to wrestle the registrar to the ground to force him to sign the marriage certificate. The couple have 48 hours together and then Hermann sets off for the Front. The rest of the film charts Maria's struggle for economic and emotional survival as she waits for Hermann's return, and her career is an allegory for Germany's economic miracle; Maria (the truly wonderful Hanna Schygulla, Winterreise) makes her fortune against all odds but in the process becomes bitter and soulless. The ambiguous ending is played out against the hysteria of a triumphant radio football commentator celebrating West Germany's 1954 World Cup win, which many saw as emblematic of Germany's return to the world stage, overlaid with a photographic montage of German Chancellors.

Despite sounding like heavy melodrama the performance of the stars and Fassbinder's elegant touch made The Marriage Of Maria Braun into a big hit, what he described as his 'Hollywood movie' but this was not reflected at prize time as the Oscar for best foreign film went to Schlondorff's brilliantly flashy adaptation of Gunther Grasse's The Tin Drum.

Maria Braun is the first of what Fassbinder dubbed his BRD Trilogy (Bundesrepublik Deutschland) and is probably the best entrée into his work, Lola (1981) and Veronika Voss (1982) followed; earlier films include The Merchant Of The Four Seasons (1972) and Fear Eats The Soul (1974) but Fassbinder was prolific, directing more than 40 films and television programmes in 17 years. His work rate was fuelled by a taste for drugs, which were the cause of his death. A marvellous technical director, the 'black on white' sex scene between Maria Braun and a Negro serviceman caused a furore in South Africa, and his penchant for framing scenes in doorways and through windows was something of a trademark; sex scenes could be sudden and shocking but arguably never gratuitous. What lifts his work is his humanity and empathy with his characters, which he never allows to be smothered by the political message. Wim Wenders' Paris, Texas came two years after Fassbinder's death, and it is interesting to speculate what might have been if Fassbinder himself had made the transition to Hollywood, but perhaps his gift depended upon his remaining as the outsider that his appetites and driven nature often made him.

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