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




Director:     Rainer Werner Fassbinder. 

Starring:     Hanna Schygulla (Maria Braun), Klaus Lwitsch (Hermann Braun), Ivan Desny (Karl Oswald), Gisela Uhlen (Mother), Elisabeth Trissenaar (Betti Klenze), Gottfried John (Willi Klenze), Hark Bohm (Senkenberg), Greg Eagles (Bill), Claus Holm (Doctor), Gnter Lamprecht (Hans Wetzel), Anton Schiersner (Grandpa Berger), Lilo Pempeit (Frau Ehmke), Sonja Neudorfer (Red Cross nurse), Volker Spengler (Train conductor), Isolde Barth (Vevi).

rough times for Germany immediately following the end of WWII


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie. 

Hermann Braun marries Eva in Germany during the fighting of World War II.   They marry at the civil registry.  But she only had half a day and a whole night to be with her husband before he had to return to the fighting. 

The war is finished, but Hermann Braun has not yet returned.  Maria wears a search board around her neck with the name and information about her husband.  Her husband has been missing for some five months now.  Things are tough for the Germans.  Maria's mother trades her husband's underwear for three bundles of firewood in order to keep her and Maria warm.  Maria gets insulted by an American soldier and she scolds him.  He apologizes and gives her some Camel cigarettes. Her mother is very happy to get the cigarettes. 

Maria wants to work for the Americans.  Through the black market she trades a broach for a low-cut dress and a glass of liquor.  Her mother does not approve.  Maria is hired to work in a bar, but the owner tells her not to wear her wedding ring to work.  Finally, Maria gives up on the idea of her husband ever returning.  She learns that an older black American soldier named Bill likes her.  She decides to take advantage of that fact and asks him to dance with her. 

Bill teaches her a little English.  Willy, a friend of Mari's best friend Betty, returns from the war and tells Maria that Hermann is dead.  Maria goes to the bar and dances with Bill.  They start a serious relationship.  Soon Maria is pregnant by Bill.  One day she is about to have sex with Bill when Hermann returns home.  He watches the couple for awhile.  When Maria sees him she goes to him, but he slaps her and then goes to get a smoke.  Soon Bill and Hermann are struggling with one another.  Maria hits Bill over the head with a bottle of liquor. 

Maria is put on trail for the murder of Bill.  She loses the baby she is carrying.  During the trial, Hermann tells the court that he is the one who killed Bill, so Hermann goes to jail for his wife. 

On a train Maria learns that there is a half-French man who owns a factory sitting in first class.  Maria introduces herself to Karl Oswald. He is very taken with Maria and soon offers her a job.  His second in command, the accountant Senkenberg, is opposed to hiring Maria, but Oswald ignores him.  She becomes a personal advisor. 

At home the radio has the most recent news about Konrad Adenauer.  He says that he is against German rearmament.  Maria visits her husband in prison.  At work she is becoming more and more influential as her assertive personality comes to the fore.  They are having a tough negotiation with an American businessman when Maria asks for just a half-house with the man.  She gets the deal for the company. 

Maria tells Oswald:  "I want to sleep with you."  She later tells her boss:  "I don't want you to think you're having an affair with me when I'm having an affair with you."   They have sex.  Maria tells her boss that she wants to earn a lot of money in the next few years. 

Maria visits her husband.  He complains that she is so cold.  She replies that "It's not a good time for feelings."  That way, nothing really affects her.  She tells him that she is having sex with her boss but that it is for the two of them because she would never leave her husband. 

Oswald visits Maria and brings her flowers and candy.  They have sex.  She tells him:  "I'll be your mistress."  In negotiations with the union, Maria refers to herself as the "Mata Hari of the economic miracle" in Germany. 

Maria's husband is very depressed and she asks Dr. Klaus to help him.  Oswald starts following Maria to know what she is up to.  Next thing we know, he is visiting Hermann in prison.  He says:  "I wanted to meet the man she loves." 

Oswald talks with Senkenberg and tells him that he only has two or three years left to live.  He wants to get out of the business and really enjoy the rest of the life that he has left to live.  Senkenberg tells him that what he is planning to do is crazy. 

Maria gives her husband a checkbook and tells him that it is his money.  But her husband is not at all pleased with her gesture. 

It is time for Hermann to be released from prison.  Maria goes to the prison to pick him up.  The guard, however, tells her that her husband has gone, but he has left a letter for her.  The letter says that he has to become a whole human being before he can be with her and that he is headed for Australia or Canada. 

Now Maria is depressed.  She stays away from Oswald.  At home her mother says that she has changed so much.  She adds the observation:  "You don't live at all."  Mom wants to move into Maria's brand new house.  But Maria says she wants to be alone in her house.  She adds:  "I have to pay for my sins."

Oswald calls to ask her out to dinner.  She tells the secretary that she feels as though "possessed by the devil".  When she sees the secretary is upset, she tells her to call Oswald to meet her for lunch.  At lunch she tells Oswald that she does not want to change the arrangement.  She is not happy, but she does not want to more unhappy by breaking off her relationship with Oswald completely. 

The news arrives that Oswald is dead.  He died in his sleep of heart failure.  Hermann returns home.  Both of them are happy but a bit uncertain as to the current status of their love.  Maria lights a cigarette with the fire from one of the stove burners.  She then blows the light out (but the gas is still on).  Maria and Hermann are about to make love when Senkenberg and the executor of Oswald's will come to the house for the reading of the will.  In the will Oswald leaves everything to Maria and Hermann.  We also learn that Oswald had made a deal with Hermann.  He told the prisoner that he would give him a lot of his wealth if he stays away from Maria and lets Oswald have her until he dies.  Senkenberg and the executor leave.  Maria opens the door to the kitchen and goes in to light her cigarette.  Hermann smells the gas and starts to react when a big explosion occurs.  Senkenberg and the executor hear the explosion and start to walk back to the house.  Another big explosion occurs.  Senkenberg and the executor enter to find Hermann dead.  (It is assumed, of course, that Maria is also dead.) 

At the finish of a soccer game, the TV announcer screams:  "It's all over!  It's all over!" 


Very good movie.  Times immediately following the end of World War II for the Germans were very bad.  But soon Germany was undergoing an economic boom called the economic miracle.  The movie calls into question the quality of this great boom in the German capitalist system. This criticism is reflected in the behavior Maria Braun.  Thinking her husband is dead, she becomes depressed.  In need of money, she acts in amoral (and immoral) ways.  She takes advantage of a black American soldier in Germany and uses him to improve her economic situation.  She smashes a bottle over Bill's head as soon as her husband suddenly comes home after being a Russian prisoner of war.  She is tried for murder, but escapes by letting her husband take the blame for the manslaughter.  She then uses sex to get herself a job with a wealthy factory owner named Oswald and then climbs up the economic ladder by having a sexual relationship with Oswald and using sex to gain clients for the firm. 

Oswald himself is also a bit amoral.  He covets another man's wife and then schemes to get her for himself even though he knows that it is Hermann that Maria will always love.  Maria is also very cut-off emotionally from others.  She is cold as her husband says.  He asks her if this is the way things are between people in today's Germany and she says that it is not a good time for feelings.  

Maria, like German capitalism, has no real heart.  She is a cold-hearted, amoral, immoral slut who uses people cynically to improve her own situation.  She justifies all this in her own mind by saying that she is doing it for her husband, but this is just so much bull.  The new successful capitalism, like Maria, is cold and heartless.  Does this justify the use of the term "miracle" for modern Germany? 

Hanna Schygulla as Maria Braun is wonderful as the amoral wife of Hermann Braun who you can't quite hate because she still has something charming about her: her love for her husband.  But wow the things she does in the name of that love are pretty bad.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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