Thursday, 12 January 2023

The Marriage of Maria Braun (Die Ehe der Maria Braun) (1979)


Maria Brauns ægteskab

This review of “The Marriage of Maria Braun” is placed under a big ---SPOILER--- tag. I cannot discuss this movie without revealing the end. This is largely because I am struggling with understanding it and the ending serves as my point.

During the war Maria (Hanna Schygulla) gets married to Herman Braun (Klaus Löwitsch) in 43 and Herman immediately returns to the front. In the aftermath of the war, Maria is waiting in vain for Herman to return. When she learns he has died, she takes a job in a nightclub as (perhaps) a prostitute. She starts a relationship with an American soldier, Bill (George Byrd), but a day while they are entertaining each other, Herman shows up and a fight erupts between Herman and Bill. Maria hits Bill in the head with a bottle and accidentally kills him. In the ensuing trial, Herman takes responsibility and is given a long prison sentence.

Maria meets industrialist Karl Oswald (Ivan Desny), with whom she starts a complex relationship. She seduces him to give her a high position job in return for being his mistress but keeps him emotionally at arm’s length as her heart belongs to Herman. In this position Maria gets rich and powerful. When Herman is released from prison, Maria goes to pick him up but learns that he has already left for Canada or some place.

Eventually Karl dies and Herman returns to Maria. The will is read in Maria’s house. Karl left half the company to Maria and the other half to Herman as thank you for staying in Canada until Karl has died. Maria is upset. When she goes to the kitchen to light a cigarette, she and Herman dies in a gas explosion.

As I already mentioned, I am struggling to figure out this movie. The only help the Book offers, is that Maria’s fate is a mirror of post-war Germany’s fate, but that does not help me that much, except that women needed to be strong to rebuild a country without the men. Also, the Book gets a number of facts wrong, so I question its reliability concerning this movie.

Maybe a key lies in Fassbinder’s typical portrait of women. They are usually taking on positions or roles normally associated with men, making them appear strong or in command or faced with a different set of challenges. Maria takes charge of her own life and manipulates her surroundings ruthlessly in a power performance perhaps more associated with men, while the men in her life, Herman and Karl, are reduced to spectators or followers. She takes and gives according to her head and is unwilling ever to be the passive part. If this is the clue, then maybe realizing that she needs and is dependent on a second half is what destroys her? Her independency coming to an end?

If this is the case, then what does that has to do with the fate of post-war Germany. Was post-war Germany missing its second half? East-Germany? Its soul? Something it lost in the war?

All that aside, I found it super interesting to watch a German take on life in the post-war ruins. Film and literature is full of war stories, but remarkably few post-war stories, as if all of a sudden, Germany is back and rich again. There are dramatic stories there and I enjoyed that part a lot.

This is also a technically impressive movie. It has a much nicer finish that earlier Fassbinder films and the art-project feel that usually has plagued his movies is gone entirely.

If only I could understand it. Suggestions are very welcome.

A tentative recommendation.

In my version of the Book, this was the last 1978 movie.


  1. As cruel as this sounds, I found it really difficult to care about this. I get what it's trying to say, but what it's trying to say feels irrelevant to me personally. It's hard to get excited about that.

    1. Yeah, my problem is that I did not even get what it was trying to say. Had I done that, I might have liked it better.

  2. Were you mixing up Maria Braun in this film with Eva Braun? You used Eva through this whole review, & I had to go back and double check my own review to make sure the character's name was really Maria the whole time, & not some obfuscated reference to Hitler's girlfriend, cause I remembered basically nothing of the actual film otherwise. Fassbinder's films were all like that for me; they passed through my brain so cleanly that there was basically little to no residue left behind, to where I dunno if I have any solid memories of any of them left (possibly Bitter Tears, just because of the uniqueness in the single location and filming in it), but he seems like a much more intellectual filmmaker than a purely narrative one, which if you don't truly connect with the intellectual challenge of a film, it's that much harder to recollect.

    1. You are so right and this is embarrassing. Throughout the entire movie I was convinced her name was Eva and even when I copied in the titles the mistake did not register with me. I have corrected the text accordingly.
      I usually do see a point in Fassbinder's movie. Not that this always make me like them, some of them I could surely have been without, but this is one I fail to grasp and it is actually one of his biggest commercial successes. It is always a minus with me when the point eludes me. It make me feel rather stupid.