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The Marriage Of Maria Braun  

As the second Fassbinder film I`ve seen during the course of a week, The Marriage of Maria Braun seems to suffer from something which is even more pronounced than what occurred in Fox and His Friends: the feeling that there is something distant, even phony, about Fassbinder`s films. I can`t put my finger on it; perhaps it`s Fassbinder`s obsession with melodrama that does it. In any case, it is very difficult for me to watch his films without occasionally getting either bored or the urge to cringe at the foolishness on screen.

The story, in any case, is rooted in very real situations. After World War II, Germany is in ruins, and we peer into one indivual victim, Maria Braun. Her family`s home is in ruins (including holes in the kitchen walls), her mother is in general poverty, and Maria`s husband is missing in action, and presumed dead. The general emotional feeling is that of apathy and hopelessness, and Maria soon represents fully the entire implications of those emotions as she attempts to rise above the financial and psychological distress of the majority of her countryfolk. She has an affair with a black man which ends in his death, yet she feels nothing. Her husband unexpectedly returns, and finds himself in prison, yet she sees this not as tragic, but as an excuse for her to prove herself to the world, and the rest of the story involves her wheeling and dealing in a textile company, after sweet-talking its boss into allowing her "skills" to creep into the firm.

Hanna Schyulla, as Maria, gives a performance both cold and superficial. It is hard to feel for a person whose character trait is greed, and it is even harder to understand the character who portrays that trait so emptily. I really did not get a lock on this person at all, except for the fact that some of her behaviour will strike one as occasionally chilling, and, most often, absurd. Certainly, the two most absurd moments in the entire film are the games she plays with her two lovers, the black solider and the textile boss. She acts so seductive and affectionate towards the black man (and there is an amusing moment which seems to me to be a takeoff of a scene in Lilies of the Field, with Sidney Poitier), until the final moment, which I will not reveal except to say that it is played out in a fairly nonsense fashion, and makes us ask questions about her state of mind (if not Fassbinder`s state of mind!!). And her behaviour during her first meeting with the textile boss on the train is too unbelievable for words (and is tainted by the appearance of an raunchy, stereotypical black man, which only creates more problems for those who question Fassbinder`s use of black people in general). During her so-called romance with the boss, she often surprises him with the urge to sleep with him, yet never acts as if she really gives a damn for anyone at all. Yet we are supposed to believe she is doing all of this for her husband.

The ending is the most ridiculous, and includes a mystifying montage of the German chancellors up to the current date (1978). Apparently, Fassbinder was making some sort of point about the German financial and social structure - what that point is, God only knows. Unless it has something to do with the sentiments expressed by numerous characters, in which the effect on people post-WWII is a lack of emotions, creating a climate of greed and amorality. So.... does this mean that the German leaders maintain this sick and heartless climate? Maybe so.... but the film shows so much silly melodrama that we don`t know if Fassbinder is capable of taking such ideas seriously.

Fassbinder does not seem to have the skills necessary to make a truly powerful film. While Fox and His Friends had some decent and honest storytelling peeking through the melodrama and the unconvincing parts, Maria pratically drowns in the phony theatrics. While this movie does have a germ of a good concept, and it is somewhat clear in retrospect what Maria Braun`s motivations truly are, Fassbinder alternatly bores and cheats us with the silly stuff, and makes me wonder if he really was this great German master who was taken from us much too soon.

David Macdonald

David Macdonald's Movie Reviews

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