The Marriage of Maria Braun

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

A World War II widow seeks to adjust to life in postwar Germany.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s films have this in your face quality that few filmmakers have achieved even when trying. When your main character gets married in Berlin during a World War II bombing and the opening credits are in sheer red on the screen, you know this story will have a tragic conclusion. Maria marries Hermann a German soldier and the day after they did he is sent in away to fight. For days she waits at the train station in despair trying to survive with her mother and grand-father in tow. Quickly, she will learn that she has to be a strong woman to make her husband proud and keep her family alive in the difficult post-war time. I’m keeping many details of the plot so you’ll have to discover them while you watch the film.

Fassbinder was openly inspired by the melodramas of Douglas Sirk and his approach on the life of Maria Braun is tainted in this style and genre. It permits strong emotions and an overwhelming mise en scene. Sometimes the scenes are shot with only one point of view and one camera while the framing is stuffed with props and set structures. Giving a more brutal vision of the situation. A bit like Josef Von Sternberg’s mise en scene but also really personal to Fassbinder’s cinema. The Fassbinder touch as I like to call it, is direct links to Sirk’s films like the big windows reminding of the same window’s in All That Heaven Allows, a film that Fassbinder remade with his Ali : Fear Eats the Soul. There are also superb colors in the costume design department that are links to the lavish colors of Sirk’s 1950’s films. However, Fassbinder is not doing pastiches of his favorite films but sees his stories as melodramas and he knew how to direct women that become like his self on the screen.

In fact, the story of his leading ladies, often doomed from the beginning, are projections of his inner self. The story of Maria Braun is in a way his story as an artist trying to make his own. This workaholic had to perform and make proud  his lovers always unsatisfied with himself. Fassbinder always saw himself as doomed on arrival and seemed to work as if he had not enough time. Well, he did died at 37 years old and having directed more than forty films. It is hard not to link The Marriage of Maria Braun and his own life story.

Starting the first edition of Marchbinder with the first instalment of the BRD trilogy couldn’t be more accurate. Having only watched The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kamp and Ali : Fear Eats the Soul I’ve decided that I should discover more and more this great filmmaker. So many editions of the Marchbinder in the coming years will be hosted here at Le Mot du Cinephiliaque to dig entirely into who I consider to be the most interesting face of the German New Wave.

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