For today’s viewing, I once again returned to my wall of Criterion releases with the numerous unwatched films that mock me. While there are numerous single releases that I still need to watch, what mocks me the most are the boxsets that I picked up during various flash sales from Criterion of which I have watched no films. With that in mind, I chose today’s film to start one of those sets and to watch my first film from an important director.
The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979, Dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder)
The first film in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s thematic (as opposed to narrative) BRD Trilogy, The Marriage of Maria Braun, uses the story of Maria Braun – a woman who attempts to put her life together in the years after World War II after her husband of two days is conscripted and then does not return home after the war ends – to depict West German in the years after World War II.
The opening moments of The Marriage of Maria Braun border upon farcical. Maria (Hanna Schygulla) and Hermann (Klaus Löwitsch) are so desperately in love with each other that even as the building they are getting a marriage license from is being bombed, they prevent the notary from fleeing so that they can be married without delay and kiss consummating the marriage while lying in the rubble remains of the building. While this humor is not devoid from the rest of the film, the film deals with a much darker subject matter than these initial moments would indicate. These initial seconds of the film represent both the happiest narrative and lightest tonal moments in the film. Immediately after, Hermann is sent away to fight in the war, and Maria is forced to fend for herself as a single woman in a country that is struggling to pick up the pieces of the military loss.
While the film does not deliver on the uproarious comedy that the initial seconds portend, what it does offer is an incredibly complex narrative about a woman whose fight to survive in a hostile environment leaves her a changed and broken woman even if her undying love for her husband never wavers. Schygulla’s transfer from giddy newlywed to cutthroat businesswoman makes for a devastating watch, but her immediate regression to lovesick puppy upon reuniting with her Hermann keeps a level of humanity in Fassbinder’s tale.