I advise this film for whoever may have lofty ideals of redeeming nature of love. Love must run the gauntlet of fate. The fate of Thousand Reich ended in a division and every German’s desire for unification must end in anti-climax and bitterness of economic disparity. We have seen it happen. Love of Maria Braun undergoes such ups and down only to end in a manner that no one may foretell.
Studios in Hollywood made love, MGM in particular, a surefire formula for success. Rainer Werner Fasbinder takes love and sets it as molotov cocktail of emotions that redeems nothing and delivers nothing. The eponymous heroine has love in her heart and her troubles stem from it. He husband is missing after the war and she has to accept her love-child was better dead than alive. Love works at several layers as metaphor for Germany of Goethe and of Konrad Adeneaur.
In the madness that Germany has become romantic idealism of Goethe can only bring tragedy. For the post-war Germany of Adenauer, the sorrows of young Werner are of no use. It is a kind of fascism that forces each to fall in for making a fast buck or be thrown aside. Werther in Adenauer time would belike Bronkovsky, running an illegal joint for GI’s and Americans can be entertained. No Germans are allowed but Maria Braun can find company there. Adenauer on the other hand can go back cynically on his avowed purpose and yet sound politically correct. (We hear him first time categorically rejectingthe idea of forming a German army and second to the contrary.) Love as an ideal has, in the Reconstruction period become soiled through and through. Psyche of Germany is wounded and Maria is like many other widows bearing search boards and hopes their missing husbands may return. Love for her is spiritual and all encompassing.
There is a subtext of Maria’s family.What happens to Betti her best friend and sister and her mother are counterpoint to her own life. Her mother is also a war widow and has love in her heart. It is she who points out it was not fair that love could hold such power over one. ‘ One may live on potatoes and if it is in short supply one can subsist on turnips or gruel. But love is such no subtitute for it will do’. It hurts like hell when the winter is biting and fuel is hard to come by.
Maria’s bittersweet threnody on love is in her intelligence and power to make changes about her, are unrealized as long as she is focused on her husband who is missing . She lives her mothers fears, her tears and tells her lies. ‘Her mother of course leaves the thinking to her’. Such love has only denied Maria Braun her dreams. When one is busy thinking to forage enough firewood or food, she has no chance for dreams.
Despite of such impoverishment she is on a spiritual high that gives her power to walk the streets for her husband and to keep hold on reality. It is touching to see her unflinching conviction her husband Hermann shall return. Her sister Betti’s husband Willi does return. She cannot be persuaded otherwise even in the bad news he has heard. No he is alive and shall return, Maria knows in her guts.
Yes Hermann Braun does come back only to be taken away from her. It bears a political parallel in the way Germany was torn asunder.Maria soon shows her hard head . Naturally she becomes the head of a company and the cynical bookkeeper(The trouble with Herr. Senkenburg is that he cannot take a holiday from hiself. Hence is stiff and colorless. Even he is impressed. Maria shows her conrol in sizing up the two men in her workplace and bring him on her side. He who kept the firm going while the Chief went to pieces during the Naz regime took control of the comany. He is thorough and persistent and a hard nosed book keeper. he typifys German spirit for order. He knows she is a force to look up to.
Dr. Klaus Oswald the textile magnate is smitten withMaria and offers marriage but she holds on to her secret and her head. She sleeps cynically with him so she shall have upper hand. She explains mysteriously the reason how the company could turn around its fortunes: she is the Mata Hari of economic success. She keeps company with Captialist by day and spends her night with proletariate.
The West t Germany rose from the ashes as she rose to possess her own country house and material prosperity while her family like Easten Germany lives still amidst the rubble. All that material wealth she wants to lay at the feet of her Hermann who is still in the prison. His love for her is as great as Oswald who puts up willingly with her erratic temperament. She has her secret to which her lover and boss cannot penetrate. Unknown to her he has his secrets, both of which mesh together to explode finally.
Hanna Schygulla was unforgettable portraying her complex character without being erratic; she was a trollop when it required without being meretricious. Whether seductive or as sober company executive she was all woman, intelligent as well as vulnerable.
The film is densely layered and Fassbinder’s pet peeve of everyday fascism that the new Dispensation espoused under an economic recovery program, is evident.
Fassbinder had a commercial success, a landmark film in German films by treating love as political diatribe. Yes he hit the mark in terms of technical excellence and box-office takings. Nevertheless a molotov cocktail in the hands of a genius.