20 September 2008


Rachel Seiffert and Bernhard Schlink (see my previous post) aren’t the only ones to embed their sentiments of post-WW2 Germany in my mind. Long before I read Seiffert and Schlink, I remember seeing an outstanding film on the same subject by German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder called The Marriage of Maria Braun.

The Marriage of Maria Braun centres on a woman in Germany in the final years of WW2 and during its reconstruction. It’s about a young woman, Maria, who finds her country and her life in ruins, but still tries to make something of it single-handedly, using her brains and her charm (sexuality). Through various turns of fate and determination, she succeeds and prospers, only to lose everything in the end.

The film begins in a bleak winter Germany during WW2 where men are stealing planks of wood to build fires to stay warm, and women are selling themselves to earn a few marks to provide food for the family. In this desperation, Maria marries the love of her life, a soldier, Hermann Braun, only to lose him to the Russian Front.

Not long after, while she’s working in a bar for American soldiers to earn her keep, Maria receives word that Hermann is reported missing in action. Lonely and out of her mind, she takes up a kind Black American soldier as her lover. One night, while they are together, Hermann lands up unexpectedly and, in a heated struggle between them, the American soldier is killed. Hermann takes the blame and is jailed.

Finding her true love again, Maria vows to create a life for both of them when Hermann returns from jail. With the English she has learnt from the American soldier, Maria takes up a job as the secretary to the owner of a textile mill. Using her intelligence, hard work, perseverance and her sexuality to charm the owner, she rises from the rank of a secretary to become a prosperous businesswoman, accumulating wealth and power.

Just when she feels she has succeeded in reconstructing her life from its ruins and is ready to start a new life with Hermann, director Rainer Werner Fassbinder (who had drawn out the story for screenplay) brings in a twist in the tale. And, in classic Fassbinder style, everything comes crashing down.

The Marriage of Maria Braun is Fassbinder’s parable of reconstruction… of life, love and the soul of not just Maria Braun in the film, but also of his beloved country Germany after WW2. What Fassbinder tries to say in the film is that, in life and love, as it is in war and economics, reconstruction and prosperity come at a huge price.

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