Neil Young’s Film Lounge – The Marriage of Maria Braun

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

THE MARRIAGE OF MARIA BRAUN

7/10

Die ehe der Maria Braun : (West) Germany 1979 : Rainer Werner FASSBINDER : 120 mins

Fassbinder’s greatest critical and commercial success, Maria Braun is in many ways a fascinating, original and remarkable film – but it’s a little too slow, stilted and deliberate to reach the level of his later masterpiece Veronika Voss (Braun, Lola and Voss form his ‘BRD [Bundesrepublik Deutschland] trilogy.’) Frequent Fassbinder collaborator Hannah Schygulla is, however, never less than compelling in the title role – which is just as well, as Maria Braun isn’t just a woman, she’s also the symbol of a whole nation. Almost destroyed by the war, both Maria and Germany rise again, surviving the late forties and prospering in the early fifties by devoting their energies to capitalism – the “Economic Miracle” made flesh. But financial gain comes at a terrible personal price…

25 years on, Maria Braun remains powerful in terms of allegory, social history and politics, even if it no longer holds up so well as a coherent, stand-alone narrative. There are several draggy sections around the middle as Maria powers her way up the corporate ladder, while the spectacular, explosive climax – while the source of endless speculation among critics – feels, to this reviewer, lazily arbitrary and, on basic practical terms, distractingly implausible. But Fassbinder then regains his footing with a remarkable coda in which photographic negatives of all the post-war German chancellors (with the exception of Willy Brandt) flash up on screen – ending with the then-in-office Helmut Schmidt, whose image enigmatically fades from negative to positive.

19th October, 2004
[seen 10th October : Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle-upon-Tyne : one-off public show : KinoFest season]

by Neil Young