Maria Braun’s wedding day was anything but ordinary: a whirlwind two-week courtship, followed by a hurried marriage ceremony at the justice of the peace amid heavy Allied bombing during the final phase of World War II. Despite their union of “half a day and a whole night”, their marriage is not a transient consequence of war. Hermann Braun (Klaus Lowitsch) is the true love of Maria’s (Hanna Schygulla) life. She patrols the train station wearing a sign with a picture of Hermann in hopes of obtaining information, accompanied by her sister, Betti (Elisabeth Trissenaar), who is also waiting for news on her own husband, Willi (Gottfried John). Not content with passively waiting for Hermann’s return, she takes a job at an underground bar for American soldiers in order to make ends meet. One day, her brother-in-law, Willi, returns home, alone, with news of Hermann’s death. Distraught, she returns to the bar and asks a shy, kind hearted soldier named Bill (George Byrd) to dance with her. Soon, Bill is hopelessly in love with her: providing for her, teaching her English, and proposing marriage. One day, Hermann unexpectedly turns up at the door during the lovers’ rendezvous. A momentary struggle results in Bill’s accidental death, and Hermann protects Maria by accepting responsibility. Vowing to create a good home life for Hermann when he is eventually paroled, Maria accepts an offer from a textile industrialist, Oswald (Ivan Desny), as an English translator and personal assistant. But Maria is an extremely resourceful and calculating woman. Preying on Oswald’s loneliness and attraction to her, Maria initiates an affair with him, increasing her influence within the company. Can Maria’s marriage survive under her prolonged separation from Hermann, or collapse under the weight of her increasing materialism and quest for power?
Rainer Werner Fassbinder creates a darkly comic and scathing portrait of Germany’s revitalization program in The Marriage of Maria Braun. A cultural shift has occurred in the aftermath of the war, and government mandates cannot repair the damage to the human soul. There is a pervasive sense of desperation in the German people: a man stealing planks from a rotting fence, women from good homes selling themselves, an overworked doctor feeding a chemical addiction. Even Maria’s corporate success is a consequence of a figurative act of prostitution. Episodically, despite her increasing wealth, Maria prefers to return to a demolished, abandoned building surrounded by faint sounds of reconstruction, emphasizing the country’s incomplete recovery from the war. Hermann’s indefinite prison term seems to vary with the prevailing political tide, reflecting the government’s own uncertainty over its agenda. In essence, The Marriage of Maria Braun is not about an enduring love, but rather, the idea that true love has no place in an exploitative and emotionally detached world of materialism and economic struggle.
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