In The Marriage of Maria Braun (Die Ehe der Maria Braun) from legendary German filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Maria Braun is a kind of German Scarlett O’Hara type of woman. Amidst shelling of her city during World War II, Maria marries Hermann Braun. The couple enjoy “half a day and a full night” together before Hermann must return to war. But as the war ends and with Hermann nowhere in sight, Maria has to do what she has to do to survive in a destroyed and divided Germany.
Like Scarlett making marriages that will suit her, Maria takes lovers that will suit her. The first is “Mr.” Bill, an American serviceman stationed in Germany. Then there’s Oswald, the wealthy French textile factory owner. As she takes these lovers, Maria is continually changing. Evolving to what her situation and environment call for. Her family comment how they don’t even recognize her anymore. But there’s one stubborn bit of Maria that remains: her loyalty to Hermann. Even as she takes her lovers and builds her life, she remains focused on him, refusing to marry anyone else.
Fassbinder experiments and plays throughout the film. Scenes are filmed in complete darkness or with partial shadows playing across the actors’ faces. But it’s the sound that is really noteworthy. Numerous scenes are layer upon layer of sound. Multiple characters lead multiple conversations simultaneously. In another scene there’s a constant clicking that you can’t pin down. Then Fassbinder pulls in close on a set of keys a character in the background is fidgeting with. In the concluding scene of the movie, Fassbinder sets the scene not to a musical score but to radio commentary of Germany’s 1954 winning World Cup match against Hungary.
It’s always fascinating to see WWII themed movies through the eyes of the Germans. But what makes The Marriage of Maria Braun so interesting is how different it is. Fassbinder’s artful, experimental approach offers a lasting impression.
(Trailer is, unfortunately, not subtitled in English.)