Dec 9, 2012

The Marriage of Maria Braun



If I were to choose one film by Rainer Werner Fassbinder to recommend to a Fass-bande virgin, it would undoubtedly be The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979) aka Die Ehe der Maria Braun – the first and best film in the German New Wave filmmaker’s BRD Trilogy (preceding Veronika Voss and Lola) and the director’s most nationally and internationally profitable film – as this wunderbar work not only touches on many of the themes that occupy the director’s extensive oeuvre – not least of all the post-Nazi German consciousness – but it is also one of his most accessible, gripping, and enthralling works. The Marriage of Maria Braun also happens to be the first Fassbinder film I ever saw about a decade ago and over the years I have realized I was right in my initial assumption that it is one of the German New Wave filmmaker’s best films. Described by French New Wave founder and alpha-auteur François Truffaut (400 Blows, Fahrenheit 451) in the prestigious publication Cahiers du Cinéma as "an original work of epic and poetic qualities" in which Fassbinder "has broken out of the ivory tower of the cinephiles," The Marriage of Maria Braun is probably the single greatest cinematic depiction of life for citizens in post-war Germany and the warped and seemingly irreparable male-female gender dynamics that such chaos sowed as the sort of film Helma Sanders-Brahms wishes she could have assembled with her slave-morality-driven celluloid feminist abortion Germany, Pale Mother (1980) aka Deutschland bleiche Mutter, but lacks the artistry, sensitivity, and honesty to do so. Unlike Sanders-Brahms’s film, Fassbinder’s The Marriage of Maria Braun portrays both the corruption and moral degeneration of both genders of a newlywed married couple as a result of completely cataclysmic and uncontrollable circumstances that resulted at the conclusion of the Second World War during Germany Year Zero and a decade or so there afterward.


 Essentially, Fassbinder’s erudite equivalent to the Hollywood epic Gone with the Wind (1939), except set within the context of post-Hitler Germany instead of the American Civil War and Reconstruction era South, The Marriage of Maria Braun is quite possibly Fassbinder’s greatest aesthetic and historical document of the father-less Fatherland that came to be as a result of the tumultuous and tormenting tides of war. Originally sprung from a failed made-for-TV collaboration tentatively titled The Marriage of our Parents between Fassbinder and Frankfurt school filmmaker Alexander Kluge after the critical success of their mostly aesthetically and politically odious omnibus film collaboration Germany in Autumn (1978), thankfully The Marriage of Maria Braun developed into a different celluloid creature entirely; a one with heart and soul, even if the accursed characters of their film of theirs figuratively torn out. Originally created from a rough draft assembled by Fassbinder and his filmic compatriots Klaus-Dieter Lang and Kurt Raab, The Marriage of Maria Braun was ultimately rewritten for screen by longtime collaborator Peter Märthesheimer (producer of Fassbinder's Despair and mini-series Berlin Alexanderplatz, among various other films) and his partner Pea Fröhlich, a professor of psychology and pedagogy with Michael Fengler (co-director of Fassbinder's Why Does Herr R. Run Amok?) and star-crossed Austrian actress Romy Schneider in mind for the title role. Although Schneider probably would have been most fitting as the lost lead, it would be Fassbinder Superstar Hanna Schygulla (Love is Colder than Death, The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant) – arguably the greatest and most important actress of New German Cinema – who would give the performance of a lifetime for The Marriage of Maria Braun; a film that would prove to be one of the most important films of Neuer Deutscher Film, as well as German cinema history as a whole.



Right from the rough getgo of The Marriage of Maria Braun, it is most apparent that newlyweds Maria (Hanna Schygulla) and Hermann Braun (Klaus Löwitsch) are in for a rocky ride of a rather foredoomed marriage. Barely surviving their marriage ceremony as the building they get married in tumbles before them and almost crushes them during an Allied bombing raid in 1943, the two severed sweethearts only get to spend "half a day and a whole night" before Hermann – a German Wehrmacht soldier – is shipped back to the apocalyptic setting that is the Eastern front. Rather unsurprisingly for a man of his ill-fortune, Hermann fails to return to his mate Maria after an extended period of waiting for him to return randomly in a ghost train of sorts. When Maria’s soldier brother-in-law Willy (Gottfried John) states that Hermann has been undoubtedly killed like most of the men of his unfortunate unit, she makes the best of things and becomes a hostess at a dilapidated makeshift bar for American Negro soldiers and eventually starts a relationship with a heavyset, middle-aged black soldier named Bill (played by American conductor George Byrd), which results in a merry mix of miscegenation and with a mulatto embryo in her white womb. Naturally, it is to Maria's grand surprise when Hermann shows up after years of captivity in a Ruskie hellhole – looking like a disheveled holocaust survivor no less – to the delight of witnessing his sweet Maria fornicating with a butterball untermensch Schwarzie. Naturally, a feverish fight ensues between heated Hermann and wild black buck Bill that is abruptly ended when the lady of the bizarre bi-racial love triangle breaks a big bottle over the head of her Negro gentlemen caller, thereupon resulting in his decisive death and a charge against the glorified callgirl for murder by American occupational forces. A stoic soldier that has already endured much shame and misery at the hands of Slavic savages, hubby Hermann takes the rap for Maria’s incendiary indiscretion, thus resulting in his imprisonment. To her delight, Maria looses the little Günther Kaufmann (a real-life product of a similar coupling between an American Negro G.I. and a Aryan barbarian) in her stomach under dubious circumstances centering around a doped-up doctor that she is peddling her flesh to in return for special medical favors. With her spouse in jail, Maria takes it upon herself to become “The Mata Hari of the economic Miracle,” or as she states quite callously and sardonically yet undeniably honestly: “I am a master of disguise: A tool of capitalism by day and an agent of the working classes by night.” Assuring her humiliated husband that she is, “going to build a house for us, as you would have done” in an exceedingly emasculating manner as he stands most impotent as an imprisoned man of no means, Maria climbs up the corporate ladder by becoming the mistress of a wealthy industrialist named Karl Oswald (Ivan Desny), who inevitably falls full-fledge in love with the blond beauteous beastess named Maria Braun. Determined to keep Maria in his life, even if she refuses to marry him, loverboy Oswald makes Hermann a monetary offer that he cannot refuse and that few honest husbands would accept that results in the decidedly disgraced husband’s indefinite disappearance to Canada immediately after he is released from prison.



To rationalize post-war prostitute-like professions, Maria tells her husband Hermann, “I’ve led this life for you…for us.” To her credit, her words more or less ring true, but that does not change the damage done from her less than monogamist lifestyle. Ultimately, Maria Braun – a self-made woman who ironically flaunts and taints her flesh to obtain independence – becomes a proto-feminist ‘modern woman’ out of necessity as she emotionally de-evolves into a cold, calculating careerist without capacity for love nor empathy, but a materialist madame and lecherous lady with a propensity for loveless sex and buying expensive things she does not need to impress people she does not like, thus The Marriage of Maria Braun makes for a marvelous movie that is not only reflective of the cosmopolitan, capitalist German woman, but also Western ‘womanhood’ as a whole. Interestingly, while German woman were forced into virtual prostitution (not to mention rape, abortions, and starvation) and rebuilding of their decimated nation due to the abject destruction of the German mensch via the ravages of war (both physically and mentally, from everything from death to disgrace and literal and figurative castration), America women also inevitably adopted this lifeless lifestyle of callous careerism as well despite America’s ‘progress’ after winning the Second World War, therefore, when it comes to progress of kultur and healthy living, one could argue that no one really won the war, at least where happiness is concerned, thus begging the question as to whether or not the real victims of war were the actual survivors. After all, it is no coincidence that the surname of the anti-heroess of The Marriage of Maria Braun is the same as that of Uncle Adolf’s mistress/short-lived bride, but unlike the Führer and his Fräulein – who were able to bask in the glory of self-annihilation and escape the mundane milieu of modernity (and, of course, war crimes) – the bedeviled Brauns become begotten byproducts of cosmopolitan capitalism and the banality of enterprise.  Indeed, if nothing else, The Marriage of Maria Braun proves that a woman's greatest commodity is her body which can buy her petty power and material possession as opposed to the misogynistic servitude of marriage and motherhood.  As calamitously depicted in the film's crushing and crestfallen climax, economic and sexual freedom cannot buy happiness, let alone an impassioned marriage, but it can empower you to buy sexy outfits to wear needlessly around the house.


Concluding disastrously juxtaposed with the announcement that "Germany is world champion" in regard to West Germany's winning of the soccer world championship and with the final image of then-Chancellor of West Germany Helmut Schmidt, R.W. Fassbinder offered a grim premonition of the splintered Fatherland's future with The Marriage of Maria Braun.  Although the Berlin Wall has fallen and the Soviet Union with it, coupled with having the European continent's biggest economy, including the world's fourth largest economy by nominal GDP and the fifth largest in terms of purchasing power, and one the highest standards of living in the world, the nation is also facing long-term indigenous population decline (lower than 1946), a devastating deluge of illegal aliens from the east and south who are mostly unskilled, uneducated, and unemployable yet commit the majority of violent crimes, the legalization of prostitution (no doubt, a most symbolic event!), and the virtual extinction of cultural creators like Fassbinder himself.  I guess when you have so many designer shoes and dresses to choose from, why worry about your extincting nation?!


-Ty E

12 comments:

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Ty E, i bet you`ve guessed what my next com-girl-t is going to be, i knew you would have because its so obvious.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I want to bugger Hanna Schygulla (as the bird was on Christmas Day 1961, her 18th birthday, not as the dirty old slag is now obviously). When that bird was younger she was an absolutely incredible little stunner.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Actually Hanna celebrates her "69"!!!th birthday on Christmas day and thats something else i would`ve loved to have done to Hanna on her 18th birthday, in fact i would`ve liked to have performed every concievable and possible sex-act in the known universe on Hanna on Christmas day 1961, what a totally perfect day that would`ve been ! ! !.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I wonder if Fassbinder ever got his knob up Hanna's bum, i know the geezer was a fairy but back in those days that bird was totally irresistable, even to a faggot ! ! !.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

For once Ebert agrees with you, he said 4 stars out of 4.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

That picture of Hanna Schygulla on the poster wheres shes wearing her stockings and suspenders always drives me into an absolute masturbatory frenzy, i know the bird was 34 at the time of principal photography (presumably sometime in 1978 for a February `79 release date) but the bird was still stunningly gorgeous even though she was a full 16 years past her prime at the time.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

A lot of people would agree that "The Marriage of Maria Braun" is a great film but i know some people still think that the greatest celluloid collaboration between Fassbinder and Schygulla is "Lili Marleen" (1981), once again with Hanna in her stockings and suspenders on the poster...WOW.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I remember seeing the posters for "Lili Marleen" and Truffauts "the Last Metro" with-in a few months of each other back in `81, both those movies (and the posters) had a kinda` old worldly cinematic charm about them.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Actually, just going back to that poster for "Lili Marleen", i remember over 30 years ago i was on the subway waiting for a train quite late at night (about midnite) and the station was deserted (and remember in those days there were no surveillance cameras on the platforms either). I actually thought about having a wank on the platform to that incredible picture of Hanna Schygulla in her stockings and suspenders but ultimately decided against it just in case someone had suddenly appeared and had seen me rubbing my helmet against Hanna's thighs on the picture, thats how wild those images of Hanna Schygulla used to drive me with lust and desire.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Hanna's incredible red lips were so full and lushious 35 years ago, imagine getting a blow-job from the bird back in those days and unloading a massive wad of spunk down her stunning throat, it would`ve literally been like being in heaven ! ! !.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

So the world supposedly ends in 11 days, i`m getting kind of excited actually because i dont think the world is going to end but rather something quite magical and incredible is going to happen with regards to Heather and me, i think Heather is going to come back to life on that day and declare her love for me in front of the entire worlds population, hence with me and Heather living together happily-ever-after for all eternity everything will then be right with the rest of the world for all eternity also. I knew Heather was gonna` come back just 6 days before what would`ve been her 37th birthday, i really am getting so excited about this, Heather O`Rourke and Jervaise Brooke Hamster finally together forever thanks to the Mayans and Nostrodamus, its gonna` be so perfect ! ! !.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I always liked that joke that the geezer in "Fear Eats the Soul" told: A geezer is sitting in a picture house watching a film when suddenly a foul and loathsome stence literally assaults his nostrils, he turns to the geezer next to him and says "oi geezer, have you shit your-fucking-self ! ?", the other geezer says "yes, why ! ?". I fell about laughing when i first heard that joke partly because it reminded me of how i smell of shit most of the time, thats why i really related to the joke.