Sunday, July 24, 2011

Die Ehe Der Maria Braun: Reconstructions of the Public and the Private

Set in a country which has seen its worst defeat following its unconditional surrender at the close of the Second World War, The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979) is narrative of a young woman who tries to recover from war and who eventually becomes one of the apex predators in the business food chain before meeting her rather sad and sudden end death. The Marriage of Maria Braun is first in Rainier Werner Fazzbinder’s BRD Trilogy, together with Lola (1981) and Veronika Voss (1982), which centers primarily on women living in the years following Germany’s defeat. The film was a commercial success in Germany. It was also received numerous awards and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Foreign Film. The film was considered one of Fazzbinder’s more successful works in his short but brilliant movie career.

The Marriage of Maria Braun was released only three years before Fassbinder’s death from complications arising from substance abuse.

An air raid demolishes what little is left in a German town as Maria and Hermann Braun exchange marriage vows. After a night together, Hermann is sent again to the front where he becomes a Russian prisoner of war. During his husband’s absence, Maria works as a hostess in a bar patronized by American soldiers. She then meets Bill, a Black American G.I. with whom she has an affair and a child after being told that her husband was killed in the war. Her husband then returns home and sees the two in an intimate moment. A scuffle ensues with Bill appearing to gain the upper hand before being killed by Maria. In the trial that followed, Hermann takes the blame for Bill’s death and is sentenced to prison. Maria then starts working for Oswald, a wealthy owner of a textile company whom she met on a train, as his personal assistant. She becomes very wealthy, allowing herself to buy her own house. Meanwhile unbeknownst to Maria, Oswald visits Hermann in prison and strikes a deal with him with Oswald leaving everything to the two Brauns following that Hermann moves to Canada after his release. Herman complies and lives in Canada after his release, sending a rose each month to Maria to remind her that he loves her still. Oswald eventually dies and Hermann returns home to Maria. Oswald’s will is executed and the details of the arrangement between the two men are made known to Maria. She subsequently lights a cigarette and dies.

The film is primarily seen as an allegory for Germany, the character of Maria is oftentimes likened to her country as it tried to rebuild following the destruction caused by the recently concluded war. Left with no other choice but to move forward, Maria did everything so as to provide for herself. Her setbacks did not at all hinder her from trying to achieve what she wanted for her and for her husband, whether it be a pair nylon stockings, heaps of money, or even a house. She efficiently used her “resources” to achieve her goals, even at the cost of her moral values. She found herself a provider following the supposed death of Hermann, and she landed herself a top position in Oswald’s company. In a way, the same can be said for Germany after the war as it had no time to reconcile with herself all the horrors that the war caused and instead used all her available resources to rebuild and recover. At one point even accepting American aid in the US Marshall Plan, like Maria allowing Bill to provide of her needs. It is however worthy to point out that although Maria was “fond” of Bill, she was adamant in her decision to marry her as she insists that she is already married. The same can also be observed when Oswald attempted to ask for her hand in marriage. This can be attributed to the fact that Germany accepted aid from the Allies did not necessarily mean that they embraced their brand willingly and would illustrate another example of their brand of pragmatism.

Marriage and love figure prominently in the film as one of the motivations of Maria that would justify her actions. By signing the contract in the middle of a bombing raid with her husband, Maria was deemed to commit herself and everything to Hermann, a man who was almost entirely absent in Maria’s life. Maria then lives her life all for this marriage. In the end however, it all goes haywire as Maria and Hermann were strangers again when they met again after Oswald’s death. Whether it was love or something else that made Maria so dedicated to Hermann is another story, but it cannot be denied that it was the one thing that made Oswald leave everything to Maria as was explicitly stated in his will. He also claims that a one’s great love recognizes another as Hermann agreed to their arrangement and left the country the moment he was released. Maria was also initially enchanted with love was seen in her dialogue with another hostess in a bar before he met Bill.

The movie’s use of sound was, in a way, irritating as one had to try and shut off, say, the radio so as to clearly understand the dialogue. This, however, show us how people reacted to news back then. Everyone was busy fixing their lives that they had no interest in listening to what’s going on outside their private lives. Even Adenauer’s speeches about Germany’s rearmament seemed to fall on deaf ears as Maria’s family was observably busy with other matters.

The Marriage of Maria Braun is an almost difficult film to take in all at once. It juxtaposes contrasting images, carries symbolism, employs twists, and ultimately leaves the audience hanging and wondering whether Maria intentionally left the gas knob open or not. Aside from primarily being a political allegory for Germany, The Marriage of Maria Braun ultimately tells the story of a young woman caught in the aftermath of the war who struggles for a chance at a better life.


- Lawrence Ivan Manalo


Margaret Gallardo said...

Part 1

“They died that Germany might live.”

Rainer Werner Fassbinder directed several films throughout the duration of his life. The most famous of which can be classified into the BRD trilogy. In the said films, Fassbinder successfully embodies the complexities of post-war Germany in a trio of unforgettable women. Fassbinder employs the use of Brechtianism: a style of filmmaking that “emphasized history, values and culture…to critique German society.” (Moeller, 1990) Although his crowning achievement is referred to as the BRD trilogy, it does not necessarily mean that the films are related. Fassbinder planned to make numerous films that portrayed the history of modern Germany. He would have succeeded if not for his untimely death at the tender age of thirty-six. The films included in the BRD triolgy are “The Marriage of Maria Braun”, “Lola” and “Veronika Voss”. Love is a key element in Fassbinder’s films and is also, ultimately, the cause of their disintegration. Much of their success comes not only from how Fassbinder commands visual and aural style, but how he plays all of those elements off against each other.” (Clark, 2007)

Indeed, Germany has sacrificed numerous things to attain their current status whether they be tangible or intangible. The Marriage of Maria Braun ("Die Ehe de Maria Braun") is obviously an allegory of post-war Germany. However, if one delves deeper into this analysis, several themes regarding Germany will surface. The theme consistent in the film is destruction. Physical destruction was shown in the form of buildings, houses, human health, and the like. However, the most important aspect the film explored had something, although some would say everything, to do with the destruction of morality. Maria Braun uses her “shrewd intelligence and sexual allure to prosper amid the ruins of postwar Germany” (Clark, 2007) and entices men into eventually giving her what she wants. Through these men, she is able to provide not just her wants and needs, but also those of her mother and grandfather. She is the kind of person who is willing to go the extra mile just to get what she wants. Maria Braun embodies the women of post-war Germany who were left to rebuild and run society. Many of these women were willing to sacrifice their own moral beliefs in order to survive the hardships of living in Germany after the Second World War.

Amidst the dropping of bombs during the Second World War, Maria marries Hermann Braun. Her marriage to Hermann symbolizes genuine loyalty. Although loyalty was used loosely in the film, she was able to end up with what she began. With Bill, she was able to grieve and release her pent up sexual frustration over the “loss” of her husband. In doing so, Maria Braunn gets pregnant with his child. I say “his” because upon Hermann’s return, she has the baby aborted. This act symbolizes her never really wanting the relationship and the child in the first place. Maria kills Bill and Hermann pleads guilty to this crime and is sent to prison out of love for his wife. While her husband spends his time in jail, Maria meets a wealthy industrialist by the name of Karl Oswald. It is at this point in her life when she starts to climb the ladder of economic, social, and psychological success. Upon Oswald’s death, Hermann returns a better man and it is during this period when Maria finds out about the contract between the two men. Instead of celebrating Hermann’s newly acquired position, a catastrophe happens: Maria – intentionally or not – leaves the gas oven on, causing a huge explosion that leads not just to her death but that of her husband’s as well. Fassbinder “uses her 'rags to riches' story as a satirical mirror of the "Economic Miracle" of the '50s.” (Clark, 2007)

Margaret Gallardo said...

Part 2

Fassbinder brilliantly injects the concept of transition in several aspects. Through the costumes, he showed the audience that Maria was, indeed, transforming as her clothes looked more expensive by the minute. The radio broadcast at the beginning was filled with calls for missing men, to reconstruction, and finally to change. The function of the background noise was to relay the mood and the occurrences of post-war Germany indirectly. The act of disregarding the news from the radio showed the gap between mass media and reality. The outside noises juxtaposed the inside noise of the film. “The viewer can focus on the plot, but still be fully aware of the outside influences and situation.” (Schott, 2001) The film also derives much of its visual power through lighting and composition. Throughout its course, the film literally becomes brighter as both Maria and Germany reach the pinnacle of success.

Hermann Braun’s name is also significant in the sense that his name can be broken down to reveal several meanings. “Hermann, for instance, can be broken into "Herr", meaning master and "Mann" which translates to man. This strong Germanic name is symbolized as a German hero (Esa). His last name, Braun or "brown" in German symbolizes the Brown shirts or the Nazis (Esa). The significance of the name Maria lies in its biblical translation of Mary, the Virgin Mother. Maria, throughout the film, portrays herself as embodying Germany, which is known as the Motherland.” (Schott, 2001) Fassbinder did not come up with random names as every minute detail was well thought of. The film was obviously well planned and executed. Although the film does not appeal to all kinds of people, it still gives the viewers a taste of Germany.

Although the marriage of Maria to Hermann Braun lasted only half a day and a whole night, the film, along with the underlying themes and political aspects embedded in it, will last a lifetime.


Clark, J. (2007, December 29). brd trilogy the marriage of maria braun, lola, & veronika voss. Retrieved from

Moeller, H-B. (1990, April). The marriage of maria braun. veronika voss. lola fassbinder's use of brechtian aesthetics. Retrieved from

Schott, J. (2001, October 1). Symbolism in "the marriage of maria braun" . Retrieved from

Liane Candelario said...

Part I

True. The Marriage of Maria Braun indeed juxtaposes itself as a narrative of the post World War II experience of the German Reichstag. But before one shoots down each symbolisms depicted in the movie, I believe that a more fundamental question should be raised beforehand. And that would be to question the intentions that pushed Fassbinder to encapsulate all of the ruined German nation-state in the body of a woman no less. Yes, the direction of this kind of analysis leads to a sexist approach, but only with the intention of stripping the movie of all kinds of pretentiousness and uncovering what could be a deliberate attempt to romanticize a nation’s destruction at the expense of using a female character when in turn the scenario on the ground remains to be harrowing for the whole of Germany.

What do I necessarily mean of this? If the goal of the movie is indeed to depict a, should we say, cunning and labor-fueled rise of Germany from it’s humiliating defeat in WWII, should it be more apt to use a male lead instead of a female one? The German Nazi for one is an army of able-bodied males drafted from their houses and placed into the frontlines of the war. If that were the case, would it seem more historically just to focus the lens of the nation’s resurrection via the same men that fell on the trenches or survived through concentration camps? The intentions of Fassbinder for such a character decision is just among the many mysteries that plague The Marriage of Maria Braun. I can only hypothesize why Maria has been given the responsibility of such symbolism.

In my opinion, it may be an attempt on equalizing gender disparity with regards to the war and especially to its aftermath. The male-comprised German army has been very much glorified and idolized during the peak of the Fascist regime, completely undermining and setting aside the war issues that hits close to home. Hurried marriages, abandoned and/or widowed wives, hunger, the constant worrying for loved ones. These are just among the many experiences that only the likes of Maria Braun could clearly narrate- precisely because at the time of the post-war Germany, there is nothing to go back to and start from other than the individual pursuits and the domestic affairs of the German people. In the movie, the task of rebuilding the nation begins by rebuilding their very homes and lives, and that’s not something that males could easily accomplish as they return war-torn and stripped of their morales.

This is where Maria Braun rises as an unlikely heroine. And I say unlikely because her intentions have no altruistic value in it as what would normally push a hero (or heroine for this matter) to take action. No, her spontaneous schemes and plans of manipulation are crafted for her own returns. It may be shown that she has done it for Hermann too but I still find the ulterior motives to be self-centered (like wanting a house of her own, and leading a prosperous life devoid of poverty). I do find it hard to reconcile her decision to objectify her sexuality vis-à-vis the rise of Germany considering she’s a symbolism and that her methods might have parallelized meanings to the attempts of the country as a whole. Does that point to how the Germany people have sold its soul (figuratively speaking) to venture into the world of capitalism?

Liane Candelario said...

Part II

It is probable considering the fact that both Maria’s sexual objectification of herself and German’s full-scale capitalist thrust has paved the way back to a pedestal of economic prosperity. But it’s not entirely a happy story as the expense of regaining wealth meant developing a trait of stoicism, of being cold-hearted, and a sense of detachment from the importance of personal relationships between co-workers, lovers, friends, and even family. There are times when Fassbinder deploys nostalgia as Maria and her childhood friends recollect their past through walking amongst the ruins, but the only progress seems to be shown at rebuilding material structures and not relationships. In fact, ironically, relationships seem to deteriorate as the story progresses.

For instance, let’s tackle the controversy surrounding Maria Braun and her relationships. The uncertainty of the war and the post-war era is a powerful driving force for personal decisions. Here we can picture men and women unsure of a future, if there is a chance of creating families or of even making their way back to their homes. Maria and Hermann have met only in a few months only to be married in the middle of an air bombing. They force the judge to sign their marriage contract amidst the bombs that threatened above their heads. Certainly that’s a scene that could only happen within the context of a war. Or talking about Bill, the American G.I. soldier. I recall a Germany that’s been very passionate about it’s supremacy as an Aryan race. It may be eyebrow racing for many conservatives to see a German lady back then becoming intimate with a black man, but not when you think that it’s the only way bring decent food and fine silk stockings- a rarity that a German woman would apparently covet whatever the cost. As for Mr. Oswald, it’s clear from the get go that the intention has been opportunistic in nature. There is love on one hand, and then there are business aspirations on the other. It’s a situation that suits very well the plans of Maria.

The conclusion of the story is anything but enlightening either. There’s Maria and Hermann probably dead from a domestic accident and then there’s the riches too of Mr. Oswald being handed to them together with the news of Germany in the background gloriously winning the World Cup title over Hungary. It inevitable tells that the country’s accession to power is not without casualties. And that ghosts of the war are continually being made.#

Victoria Tiangco said...

It is their wedding day in a war riddled Germany where shells are dropping from the sky and gunshots serenading the air. Maria and Hermann try to tie the knot, as they scramble to sign their marriage certificate while preventing the civil registry minister from escaping for his dear life. The opening of the film can be alluded to Germany’s desperate attempt to save face from its horrendous acts during the Second World War. The country lost its identity to the Holocaust and is trying to recuperate from the destruction through its hyper-efficiency leading. The transformation from a war-torn country to its miraculous economic growth in 50s is depicted in Maria’s transition. From a scavenger of food and supplies to a wealthy and fashionable business woman, Maria climbs up the social ladder. There is a disconnect between the ideal values and image of the West from the brutality that the Germans showed during the Holocaust. It is apparent in the contradictions of the film through the setting wherein Maria walks in her elegant clothes and stilettos among the ruins and destruction. There is also a disconnect of Maria’s loyalty to her husband as she engage in sexual affairs with Bill and Oswald. The irony of Maria’s situation becomes more evident when she and her husband is alienated by the wealth she gained from her disregard of morality.

No one could blame Maria for what she has done and for what she has become. In her time and place, where the rules do not apply anymore, she has to do something in order to provide for her family. Among her motivations are her hopes of finding Hermann alive and ensuring a better future for them. At first glance, Maria is a victim of the war, who was forced to sell herself to a black American G.I. and to a rich business man. But at a closer inspection, she is empowered to make her own decisions and to act according to her will. This is contrary to the complete enslavement of the German citizens to the Fascist rule during their time. This mentality can be seen in the swarming of men for a cigarette butt and the craving of the mother for rations of food and supplies. Maria is different; she defended her honor against the indecent remark of an American soldier. Maria defies our notion of an ideal wife who is kind and faithful to her husband. Fassbinder depicts himself in the character of Maria who is “cruel and distant” to those who loved him (Ebert, 2005). She definitely knows what she wants and how to get them. Maria used her beauty and appeal to manipulate the men to climb up the social ladder.

Love. Does Maria’s love for her husband enough of a justification for all that she has done? Fassbinder beautifully and depressingly defies the redeeming notion of love present in most of the mainstream films. He shows another aspect of love being the greatest oppressor (Malcolm, 1999). Whether it is divine providence or circumstance, it seems that Maria and Hermann were never meant to be together. The first time was Hermann’s capture, followed by his incarceration then by Oswald’s interjection. In the end, when Maria and Oswald were finally united with plenty of riches, their house blows up. Love is one of the greatest motivations of Maria, in doing what she did. However, it imprisoned her to what she has achieved. All that she has gained made her lose sight of her morals, dignity and integrity as a person. In the end, the reason behind her actions became alienated to where they were present. Maria and Hermann are wedded but no different from strangers meeting the first time.

Ebert, R. (2005, April 24). The Marriage of Maria Braun. Retrieved from
Malcolm, D. (1999, January 28). Rainer Werner Fassbinder: The Marriage of Maria Braun. Retrieved from

Rosie said...

The opening scene of Die Ehe der Maria Braun provides an interesting and almost heartbreaking juxtaposition: two lovers exchange vows amidst the gunfire and explosions in war-torn Germany. At a time when legal contracts mean practically nothing, we witness two people, holding on to what is left of ordered society, choosing to commit to each other through a marriage contract. Even when they know that there may well be no tomorrow, even as the very institutions they swore under were reduced to cinders. From the very beginning, I was questioning Maria's (and Hermann's) sanity. Love has driven many women and men insane after all.

There is a strange quality to Maria that makes her at once charming and frightening, an unpredictable fusion of hedonism and self-destruction that blazes its way through a vast expanse of adversity only to fizzle out at the denouement. This is what I have been fixating on since I saw the movie: it seems as if Maria was strong enough to face the horrors of the world, but she was not strong enough to face herself.

The anarchy brought about by the war made Maria choose between starving and selling herself. But there was never any hesitation in her face, not when she paid for the first black dress with her mother's brooch, not when she was flirting with Bill while repeating English phrases. In the beginning, it was her unflinching countenance that was most striking; here was a woman who believed she had lost everything when her husband was lost during the war, who also knew that she had to survive, and who understood that the only person who would be able to give her what she wanted was herself.

The scene where Hermann claimed that he murdered Bill was one of the most poignant for me. For a moment I thought, no, Maria will not let him do it, she will not let him go to jail for a crime she committed. But she did. Maybe love did drive Hermann insane, but Maria was being practical here. She was the rational self-serving actor, even as she professed her love for him. If she is a synecdoche for Germany, then Germany is a self-serving nation that lulls itself to sleep at night by thinking that everything it does, it does for love.

Rosie said...

Towards the end, Maria was no longer in her second-hand black gown but in expensive velvet dresses and percale jackets with fur trims, but this is when she truly started coming undone. The storm had passed, and the peace must have been deafening for a woman who thrived in the noise. She was able to finally take a long, slow look at herself, who she had become, what she had done to the people around her, and where "love" brought her. Perhaps the war that rages on within us after all is said and done is the worst war of all.

I agree with the main entry's author in saying that the film is almost too difficult to take in at once. There are some inconsistencies and many plot twists, and understanding it is made difficult by the knowledge that Die Ehe der Maria Braun is not just about Maria, but about an entire nation.

If I were to point out just one of the most memorable aspects of this film, it would be the sense of loss that the inevitable end of Maria invokes. The true tragedy was that she worked so hard at the expense of integrity, built everything up from the ashes until the world looked whole again, only to find that the past cannot be remade, and in the end she lost it all in the flick of a cigarette.

Fiona Arevalo said...

Part I

Rainer Werner Fassbinder had produced over 40 films in his short-lived life of 36 years. The most accomplished and known of which are classified into the BRD trilogy which stands for Bundesrepublik Deutschland, the official name of West Germany and of the united contemporary Germany. The trilogy consists of Maria Braun (1979), Veronica Voss (1982), and Lola (1981). All three films serve as an allegory of the post-war Germany and made use of female protagonists whose names provide the titles. Fassbinder’s works were inspired by the American filmmaker, Sirk and his melodramas.

Die Ehe Der Maria Braun (The Marriage of Maria Braun), is the first among the BRD trilogy. Like what Mr. Manalo and most of the other reviews have said, the film reflects the rise of post-war Germany in the rags-to-riches story of Maria Braun. Also in this film, Fassbinder opens the discussion of how one person can hold on to his/her dignity and ethics under capitalism. The main figures suggest that it is difficult to be good in a capitalist world. Yes, Maria was very faithful to her husband, Hermann but she undeniably used both Bill and Oswald for her own welfare. She was fond of Bill only because she needed the care and comfort of a man in the absence of Hermann. Bill provided her food, material luxuries and even helped her improve her English. Her English skills were what impressed Oswald. The moment she knew that Oswald is a wealthy textile industrialist, she wanted to amuse him at once for she knew that he could help her advance her economic state. In some ways, Maria had prostituted herself to get what she wants. On a more positive note, she did all these not just for her own sake; she did it for her and her husband. On the contrary, Hermann, who had been separated from his wife for years due to the war and then imprisonment, sells his first months that would have been available to him with Maria to Oswald for an inheritance. His priority was to recover manhood not through love but through acquisition of wealth (Moeller, 1990).

Fiona Arevalo said...

Part II
As one can observe, Fassbinder, especially in his BRD trilogy, gives the lead role to a woman, a strong heroine. But why is it that he prefers to encapsulate the post-war struggles of Germany in the persona of these women? When asked about this in an interview in 1980, Fassbinder claims that... "It works better, when relating something about history, to use women. Men have..a prescribed role in the writing of history ...that is why I don't find men so interesting as figures..; while women..taken singularly are often capable..of doing things one would not have considered possible" (Limmer, p. 82 as quoted in Moeller, 1990). Some critiques of Fassbinder considered his works in line with contemporary critical women’s films, contending that he was and could have been a feminist. However, upon learning of his motives as to why he’s fond of using female protagonists, can you still consider him as one? And by the end of the film, did he portray Maria as a heroine or a victim? In uplifting herself from the rubbles and impoverish state she found herself at after the war, Maria had acknowledged that she has to surrender to strategies of male suppression. She had to attach herself to a more established and successful man in order to improve her welfare. She embraced society’s male values in order to rise in the patriarchal hierarchy (Moeller, 1990). Maria, as clever as she is, was manipulated by the two men of whom she placed her complete trust to. Without her knowing, the two men had come into an agreement that Hermann would go overseas the moment he gets out of prison to give way to Oswald and his short lease on life. Her husband, for whom she had been working her whole life for, pimped and sold her behind her back. Lastly, some of the dialogues in the film suggest women’s dependence over men. Maria and her friend Betti were in a complete lost when their husbands were missing. Maria's practical mother asks why in wartimes she satisfies herself with substitute foods but does not allow more than one partner in matters of love. It is as if they always need a man to complete themselves.

This film could have not been as great as it is if it weren’t for the remarkable and very witty dialogues of Maria. Hanna Schygulla’s performance was astounding and contributes greatly to the film’s success. She was rewarded with the Best Actress award at the Berlin Film Festival in 1979. Fassbinder’s employment of war sounds of the Third Reich further established the film’s allegory of the post-war reconstruction in the Federal Republic of Germany. The radio broadcasts background also helped build Fassbinder’s political points, one of which illustrated the false promises from Chancellor Adenauer. The characters’ non-attention to these broadcasts reflects their lack of political awareness and civic responsibility. Now if one shall ask about the relevance of the soccer game broadcast, this was not just any sports broadcast for this is the final round on the World Soccer Camp played by the Federal Republic of Germany and Hungary on the 4th of July, 1954. According to Sociologist Hans-Joachim Winkler, the victory of Germany in this said game did more for the development of a PRG national sentiment than the economic miracle (as quoted in Moeller, 1990).

Ebert, R. (2005, April 24). The Marriage of Maria Braun. Retrieved July 26, 2011, from

Moeller, H-B. (1990, April). The Marriage of Maria Braun. Veronika Voss. Lola: Fassbinder's use of Brechtian aesthetics. Retrieved July 26, 2011, from

-AREVALO, Nina Fiona Vianca S.

therese said...

Part I

In many ways, The Marriage of Maria Braun is indeed an allegory for a Germany recovering from the war. Surrounded by ruins, we watch as Maria re-enacts this rebuilding of a nation that had lost so much through the reconstruction of her own life. What provides rich food for thought in the film, however, was whether the means she used - or Germany used, for that matter - were morally justifiable.

Such a question, however, is deceptively simple, and in the film the situation is far more nuanced. What Maria did were acts that were, arguably, bound by the existing socio-economic and political conditions of that time. And many times the film illustrated how these conditions affected everyone: that scene, for example, when an American GI throws a cigarette butt down the floor and all these people scramble for it; or that scene wherein Maria has to pay her own mother cigarettes in exchange for her brooch. Times were hard, and we see in the film how the characters had to yield to such social contexts, whether they liked it or not. Indeed it wasn't just Maria who had to resort to what we would normally regard as morally compromising means to survive - Hermann, for example, agreed to leave right after his release from prison in exchange for Oswald's riches; Senkenberg, who knew that Maria's scheming was not doing his boss good, nevertheless had Maria stay for the good of the company. And, as much as Maria would justify her acts by going back to that marriage contract she signed with Hermann, money and the material remained to be the ultimate standard that determined the quality of her marriage and her relationships, as much as it was the economy that primarily determined the quality of German life.

More than an allegory, the film is a paradox – and it is through its contradictions that Fassbinder makes his boldest statements. After all, the film is rich with contrasts: wealthy Maria amidst all the rubble is a visual contrast, but more than that there is the idea of a woman trying to stay committed to keep her marriage intact by having affairs with other men, or even Maria trying to gain success and affluence at the expense of her relationships, such that we ask later in the movie – to what end did she do all those things again? This gives us an idea of what Germany might have had to compromise in its recovery – its purpose as a nation.

therese said...

Part II

Also, one of the most striking aspects of the film was that the emotional scenes were very minimal, considering it is as much a film about loss and sacrifice. I’m not quite sure if it’s just that Filipinos are very sentimental while Germans may not be so, or whether it is just that we have been so used to media depicting women as emotional – but the lack of emotional depth on the part of Maria was very conspicuous. She faces her husband and tells him remorselessly that she was having an affair with another man, and more often than not treats Oswald with the same cold indifference. This is emphasized even more through Maria’s close-ups, and particularly through the sharp exchange of lines between the characters. There is even one particular scene where Fassbinder points directly to this aspect of Maria’s world as she says matter-of-factly, “It is not a good time for feelings.”

The greater irony is that all the characters seem to have accepted this compromise. Nobody makes much of a fuss out of Maria’s affairs – not even her own husband, who is later revealed to have struck a deal with Oswald, too. Thus even the audience finds it difficult to discern – were these characters really forced to these bargains? The way Maria says “I wanted to sleep with him; he did not force me to do it,” might make us think twice, and understandably so, because in The Marriage of Maria Braun the power relations were extremely tricky. Was it really Maria manipulating Bill and Oswald, or was it Maria being manipulated by the social conditions (that she was poor and she was German) and contexts (that she was a woman) into doing all the things she did? Because that might just be the point – like in Gramsci’s cultural hegemony, the characters might not even recognize that they are being forced to conform or act in certain ways by what they think is the status quo. Maria – or the audience, for that matter - might not have felt she was being oppressed as a woman because it seemed like she was defying the idea of a good wife, but from another standpoint she was unknowingly perpetuating her objectification, in that she had no other means to success but her body and her beauty. And so, no matter how much Maria tries to distinguish that she was “fond” of Bill or Oswald but still loved Hermann, she might have, as I mentioned above, been forced into acting entirely out of necessity rather than love or affection. Parallelizing this to post-war Germany in general, the film can also serve as a commentary on how the country was forced to conform to the emerging post-war order as dictated by the victors of the war. As Maria cleverly puts it, "I like the way we live; after all, I have no choice."

- Therese Buergo

royalprincerpineda said...

Part 1

There is a tradeoff between settling past nightmares and attaining future goals. Usually, the opportunity costs are great—either deal with the past and your wellbeing may lag behind, or you focus primarily on the future and put everything else in oblivion until something that you forgot explodes on your face. At least, that’s how I can put Maria Braun’s life in economic terms.

The Marriage of Maria Braun is set postwar Germany, the time at which the German people were beginning their lives anew. Maria, who had her marriage to Hermann Braun during World War II, almost lost her husband to the war, and experienced the harsh living conditions of war havoc, decided to move on and take measures to alleviate herself and her family from poverty. Once, she became a bar hostess, and had a relationship with an American named Bill. She accidentally killed Bill when Hermann surprisingly returned home alive and caught her and the American undressing each other. For the second time, Hermann and Maria parted ways as he was the one who confessed guilty to killing Bill, and he was sent to jail. From this point, it seemed to me that Maria’s heart was hardened more by the tough times, and again, as I put it in economic terms, she traded her morality in favor of accumulating wealth. She became involved in the business of Oswald, to whom she also became mistress. Despite the paradoxical Maria getting involved with extramarital affairs while saying that she loves Hermann so much, she succeeded in attaining riches for her future.

We may analogize Maria with postwar Germany, which also moved on and took measures that made its own Economic Miracle possible, at the cost of a decline in moral values. Germans became so preoccupied in their own businesses that they were almost unmindful of their surroundings. In the film, this was evident in Maria’s family not paying so much attention to the announcement of then Chancellor Konrad Adenauer on radio, in Maria getting colder toward her own mother as the latter found a new man to love, and even in her sexual affairs with men while saying she loves her husband, heedless of how the other man would feel about it.

royalprincerpineda said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
royalprincerpineda said...

Part 2

I agree with Mr. Manalo, that Maria’s actions may also symbolize certain actions of Germany in its history. Her affairs with Bill may be the act of receiving US aid as stipulated in the Marshall Plan, but she did not give in wholeheartedly, just like the country that did not totally embrace American ideals in its system. Her involvement with Oswald may be the reestablishment of Germany’s friendship with the Western European countries like France. And Maria’s climbing up the social ladder may be Germany’s Economic Miracle after World War II.

However, as Maria amassed wealth, her morals were compromised. Can we blame her for how she renegotiated her existence in favor of what she thought would be best for her and her husband? I deem her actions not totally right. Although she wanted all the best for their future, she forgot to look back to her past and deal with it accordingly. Because of her tendency to forget, there was something that she left open and caused her death—the stove on which she lit her cigarette. I am just wondering what the ‘stove’ symbolizes. Could it be the horrors of Germany’s past which should not be left open just like Pandora ’s box? I am not sure. But with this scenario, it can be a warning to all of us: Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinanggalingan, hindi makakarating sa paroroonan. It is not enough just to leave everything what is past. One must settle what is unfinished so that one can fully move on. And as I aforementioned, the opportunity costs are great, so better weigh your decisions before making one. #


-Roldan P. Pineda

Juan Carlo Tejano said...


Browsing through reviews and reactions from various sources online, the idea that Maria Braun represents Germany – as pointed out by Mr. Manalo here – seems to have gone unchallenged. Despite gaining the nods of different film critics, however, I like Ms. Candelario beg to disagree.

There are many reasons to disagree with the idea that Maria Braun’s biography represents Germany’s history in Die Ehe Der Maria Braun. For one, what does Maria Braun’s relationship with the French Oswald symbolize? Clearly, Oswald’s French identity was made quite salient in the film: His first introduction into the plot describes him as French and in one scene his illiteracy in the English language was profoundly depicted by his incapacity to communicate directly with an American business supplier. In fact, let us focus a discussion of that scene in particular. Assuming away that the persona of Maria represents postwar Germany in the film, the scene becomes important because of the fact that three national identities were present there – French, German, and American. The sexual-in-tone arrangement between the German woman working for the Frenchman on one hand and the American man on the other hand in the midst of the Frenchman’s confusion must necessarily translate to something intricately political at the contextual level of international relations, yet it does not ring any bell. Alas, therefore, Maria Braun’s symbolism of postwar Germany falls apart.

The film, however, is replete with allusions to the larger war-torn German society. Even at the very beginning of the film, a photo of Adolf Hitler is shown and then broken into pieces by an air bomb attack on Maria Braun’s wedding setting. Moreover, throughout the film, the radio announces different news relating to rearmament in the country and statements from Konrad Adenauer. When Maria was looking for Hermann Braun a few minutes into the film, there was also an announcement on radio relating to men involved in the war. Maria also becomes a hostess for an American bar much in the same way that West Germany became a “prostitute” to American interests after the war. Finally, at the end of the film, photos of Germany’s top political leaders beginning with Hitler are shown.

Clearly, therefore, in an almost obscenely obvious manner, Rainer Werner Fassbinder is trying to tell us something about the postwar experiences of the German people through the film. A message on German politics is quite apparent. The question, however, remains: Is Maria Braun necessarily a symbol of Germany?

In light of what was pointed out, I beg to disagree. Through Maria Braun, Germany’s story lacks completeness, coherence, and internal logic. There are simply too many instances in the film when the symbolism falls apart. Through Germany, Maria Braun’s narrative loses importance, emotiveness, and even relevance. Maria’s story is simply too minute – it is too specific to rightfully serve as a symbol for Germany’s history. At the same time, it is too big – Maria’s story as a woman is too universal to be attributed only to Germany’s experiences.

- Juan Carlo Tejano

Juan Carlo Tejano said...


Maria Braun’s story is a story of a woman stuck with a state that cannot provide for her. This is what Maria Braun’s biography symbolizes – the experiences of women around the world who suffer under socially imagined, repressive states that bear unimaginably real consequences on the lives of women. The marriage of Maria Braun to Hermann Braun therefore becomes more salient and more relevant through this lens: The young women of Germany, despite having known the country for only such a short time, face a binding, punitive, and morally prescriptive contract to stay with and suffer under the war-torn German state that is imprisoned by either the USSR or the US. Thus, it is Hermann, not Maria, who represents Germany, a state that promises but is incapacitated to provide for its women – in the same way that Hermann could not provide for Maria due to the ill effects of war. Thus, Maria, as a woman, is left on her own to become a provider for herself. Into the story therefore Maria, like the many women of her time that she represents, has no employment opportunity other than those fueled by sexual objectification. First, she becomes a hostess in a bar and is forced to have relations with Bill who has the economic power to provide for her needs and wants. Then she becomes a “personal” adviser of Oswald, a wealthy businessman whom she serves as a mistress, and becomes wealthy only because of Oswald’s ability to provide for her. When Oswald dies, Hermann returns rearmed with wealth in the same way that Germany rearmed itself under Adenauer.

Thus, such was the experience of women in war-torn Germany, having no real economic opportunity than sexual objectification in which there is simply no room for emotion. Yet the women, like Maria who was stuck with Hermann simply out of legality despite the false imagination of loving a man she never really knew, were stuck with Germany out of empty love.

- Juan Carlo Tejano

Franco said...
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Franco said...

“Red Cross Nurse: How long were you married?
Maria Braun: I still am married.
RCN: I mean, it didn't last long, did it?
MB: Yes, it did: half a day and a whole night.”

Set in 1943 Germany, which was, historically, the time before Germany was split into East and the West, “The Marriage of Maria Braun” by Rainer Werner Fassbinder was about Maria who subsists with the realities of post-war Germany and becomes a mistress to men while being true to her husband Hermann. She has become materially complete but, all the while, was personally disintegrated. Or as Wolfgang Limmer puts it, the film presents Maria Braun with a "shining simplicity" as an allegory of Germany, "a character that wears flashy and expensive clothes, but has lost her soul." Hence, it is another movie that politically socializes us to the concept of integrity.

Going back to the quotation, the conversation echoes the brief declaration of Germany as a republic in the early 1920s only to be decomposed into four military occupation zones dominated by two ideologies by the late 1940s. Yes, the seemingly sliced ham -- that was Germany -- is still Germany (or in a sense, married) but it was “rationed” to France, United Kingdom and the United States to compose the western “capitalist” Germany while the rest was given to the Soviet to be the eastern “communist” Germany.

Undoubtedly an allegory for the 1945-1990 German history, like Maria who held on to her marriage while taking advantage of what the “other men” could offer him while her elusive husband was still held captive as a political prisoner, Germany clung to having “one Germany” for the longest time but was forced to be subdued by the imposed ideologies that divided them from within as the elusive independence is still blocked by the colliding allies and soviets.

The utility of the black American soldier Bill and the French industrialist Karl Oswald for Maria Braun hinted the reliance of Germany to these countries for economic growth in the 1950s which historically restates the economic success of Federal Republic of Germany (Bundesrepublik Deutschland) or the West Germany through a “social market economy” while Hermann who was imprisoned by the Soviet reverberates the fate of East Germany whose society was being controlled in every aspect, not to mention the jail bars that could possibly signify the Berlin Wall. Subsequently, the Wall’s collapse and hence unification of the two Germanys was analogous to the reunion of Maria and Hermann.

The question that Fassbinder has left us, whether consciously or unconsciously, was the symbolism for the explosion. Does it simply mean that the couple should be cautious for, in an instant, they might be destructed with a single BOOM, hence saying “achten!” to Germany? Does the explosion symbolize the ruined integrity of Germany as a country in the face of the international community after the unfortunate events in its history? Does it symbolize the forgetting of the past for the sake of moving to a brighter future, where West Germany should "forget" its Nazi period? OR does it prophesize another war, perhaps cold, which is impending as he sensed it in the German political arena while making the film 34 years ago?

Colchester, Nico (1 January 2001). "D-mark day dawns". Financial Times (London).
Fulbrook, Mary (1991). A Concise History of Germany. Cambridge University Press.
"Germany". U.S. Department of State. 10 November 2010.
Wise, Michael Z. (1998). Capital dilemma: Germany's search for a new architecture of democracy. Princeton Architectural Press. p. 23.

Ginx Petterson said...

What’s beautiful about war is that it can take the usual and ordinary and turn it into the unusual and extraordinary. It can magnify pain and love and poverty and luxury into their stark forms, making everything simple—straightforward decisions to straightforward situations. There are many aspects to this film where such straightforwardness was seen, two of which I would like to comment on.

First, on sound, script and cinematography. Mr. Manalo points out how sound becomes irritating when it is just as loud as the dialogue. It creates, though, a pretty good contrast to what exactly is happening in the current scene. Also, while watching the film, it was to my amusement that there was no subtlety in the introduction of music in a scene. It enters and ends. There didn’t seem much use in using sound to ease the audience into what was going to happen. Looking back, I seemed to already know what was going to happen anyway, but what kept me watching was the curiosity of how exactly it was going to be done. It may be a tad crass, but the use of music was just as outright as the rest of what was happening anyway. The creeping notes of suspense while Maria and Bill were being intimate while Hermann watches them delivered just as much as the look of horror Maria wore at the realization that Hermann was indeed back, and he had just slapped her to boot.

There were many memorable lines in the film, one that I found real funny was when Maria visits the first class part of the train then goes, “Ever notice how small the restrooms are? I thought they’d be bigger in first class, you know, fatter people.” There wasn’t much need for coaxing. Lines were as frank as “I slept with my boss and I wanted to do it, and I’m doing all this for the two of us when we can finally be together.” One said directly how they saw the situation, and demanded what they wanted from it. Cigarettes for a brooch. A brooch for some liquor and a dress. Such dialogue was skillfully used for simplicity, yet effectively able to show non-German audiences how it was back then. It wasn’t a time for feelings, because those were too complicated. And after war, who in the world wanted complications?

There were no subtleties in lighting and camera work as well. The light would emphasize Maria’s eyes and the deviousness found in them while she talks to the Doctor, setting up the eventual i'm-sleeping-with-you-so-i-can-get-what-i-want. No need to hide such details from viewers. Bright daylight for the clarity of rubble, yet dim stairways and alleys, and dark rooms and corridors for dispensable settings. A scene would include what it needed, even a couple in the middle of sexual pleasure, though unrealistic, was required to complete the scene where Maria vomits to one side. These straightforward juxtaposed situations narrated for themselves the storyline—mise-en-scene, quite literally, ‘put in the scene’ as the scene tells the story itself.

Ginx Petterson said...

Second, on the character of Maria Braun. There were many praises for Hanna Schygulla, the actress who plays Maria Braun, and I do believe that those were well deserved. She portrayed Maria well, capturing the charm and cynicism of the character to her very core.

The character’s development was clear-cut throughout the movie. Viewers could recount a timeline as to how she was at the beginning of the film, to her cold, brusque self towards the end. This is even underscored through her outfits and overall look. She had her identity well defined, whether it be lover, friend or employee. Her motives were up-front. Using the resources she had for eventual economic relief—which she will say over and over was for the benefit of Hermann and her.

Germany, war torn and all, was in such a pinch that there was no time to actually renegotiate the rules. Like Maria Braun, they defined the rules themselves. She defined what Marriage was. What or what not a woman could do. She builds a house for her and Hermann—usually something that is expected of men. Her methods were unorthodox, but it got the job done. War (or in this case, the end of it) brought out the German situation in its barest and most vulnerable that there was no time for feelings, or morality. But as how the movie ends, the World War may have ended, but how long could a country sustain such work-driven ethic without eventually blowing up?

The Maria Braun character was a distinct tool to not only express the film’s message on the whole, but also to showcase talent on the silver screen, opening up what Fassbinder called a German Hollywood.


Petersen said...

Part I

The Marriage of Maria Braun (Die Ehe Der Maria Braun) begins and ends explosively -- even in its literal sense -- with a lingering shock of tragedy almost that it seems to be partly cyclic, considering that it is introduced and ended in this manner. A tragedy at the beginning for an ephemeral love-affair turned to a life-long commitment, embedded and forged solely on a piece of paper, that promises an early separation due to the shackles of war; and a tragedy at the end for just moments after finally a deserved reunion of the married couple that death welcomes them both like it were also their long lost lover. These apparent themes of tragedy resulted by warfare and its likened ties bring about the necessary equivalent emotions postwar Germany had to go through in this struggling period. Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s film severely captures and encapsulates sort of a microscopic perspective in this grueling period. The Marriage of Maria Braun is a testament and a tribute; almost like a badly-written and misdirected love letter for the rebuilding and reviving of Germany from its harrowing and destructive past.

The film centers on its unlikely heroine, Maria Braun. At first glance, she is a natural and innocent-looking beauty. Beneath the mantels and accessories, however, is a deceiving and manipulative woman who is ironically and hopelessly faithful to her husband. But that assumption or commentary on the integrity of Maria Braun is led from the biases of her undeserving success in life later on (or was it actually deserving of her, albeit her unnecessary methods?). She may look always like the predator but looking deeper into her cold-shot eyes and beneath her fair skin is also -- or just may be -- a fragile victim of the external and societal factors she encounters. We will never know -- or fully comprehend -- because that is the effective mystery of the diegesis. Matter-of-factly, Maria Braun states: “I'm a master of deceit: a capitalist tool by day, and by night an agent of the proletarian masses - the Mata Hari of the Economic Miracle.” This statement furthers the notion of the film’s reference to postwar Germany yet does it mean to say, then, if the above comparison rings true and familiar, that Fassbinder tells of his country’s deceitfulness and problematic intents? The film is not necessarily an entire allegory but more of -- yet still, a problematic -- allusion to a country injured by war.

Petersen said...

Part II

Love drives Maria Braun’s motivations and intentions in most parts of the film. Notice how she differentiates, all the time, fondness from the pureness and realness of love. Notice how she refuses the offers of rather successful and rich, although seemingly distasteful and peculiar guys because she stays blindly committed to a rarely present husband. This is how powerful Maria Braun is, able to juggle in between confusion and clarity of every situation around the men she shares her life with. The most powerful element of the narrative, after all, and the solar fixture of the revolving planets around an unruly axis of the narrative is Maria Braun herself. Just as much as, wholly, Hanna Schygulla, who plays the character of Maria Braun and notably Fassbinder’s muse, constitutes the brilliance and elegance of the film. The rags-to-riches formula fully embodied by Maria Braun’s biography testifies to the socio-economic miracle of postwar Germany’s healing and uprising from its ruins later on.

The Marriage of Maria Braun, as a whole filmic entity, makes its audience question its clarity. Does its ambiguity -- the queer juxtapositions, the stage-y set-up and actions, the surprisingly vague ending, the subtle contrasts, and so on -- testify to the authenticity of its straightforward purpose as an art piece aimed to communicate largely to viewers? Or does it blind its intentions, as to how it guises and hoods Germany in hazy sentiments like, say, the overlaying spirals of radio announcements of Germany’s triumph in the World Cup paired with a visual aid of a mini-rubble nuclear situation synecdoche? What does it try to imply? A battle won through immoral motives? Or perhaps an introduction of destruction that hints an optimistic perspective for a sooner-than-later triumph? It’s up to us, I guess, to decide on which holds the most sense and truth.

- Petersen Vargas

faysah said...

Part 1:

As noted in the entry, The Marriage of Maria Braun depicts post-war Germany and its struggle to rebuild the country and re-shape its image and national identity after the atrocities of the Third Reich have shocked the world into disbelief. This is shown through the portrayal of Maria Braun and her life during and after the war. The parallelism is evident between Germany’s efforts to re-emerge as one of the European powers and Maria Braun’s experiences as she tries to get her life out of a hurdle during her husband’s absence in World War II and after his return. The common idea of rebuilding is then presented through the private life of an individual (Maria) and the public predicament of a state (Germany). These two spheres will serve as the main subjects of this commentary.
Adolf Hitler’s fascist regime in Germany from 1933 until 1945 is one of the most infamous governments in history because of its persecution of several groups that Hitler deemed as a threat such as Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, crippled and mentally-disabled people, and others. But while Germany was cast in a villainous role in World War II along with the other Axis powers, especially in American and British World War II films, Fassbinder’s movie brought out the fact that Germany has suffered just as much as anyone during the war. Often, when a government has violated international norms, it is very easy to view it as a unitary actor and forget that it may have citizens who were not in cahoots with the administration. The same desolation and desperation present in war torn countries where images of starvation, bartering of goods, loss of family members, and disintegration of morale were shown in the movie. Many have expressed their distaste on how German society have allegedly condoned and even supported the brutalities of the Nazi party. Some scholars would even go so far as to argue that the German people were more than willing accomplices of the persecution against Jews (Goldhagen, 1996). This film offers another view for Germans by showing that they did undergo the same harrowing experiences that many went through during the war without necessarily exonerating them as seen in the first part of the movie with Maria and her mother’s desperation for scarce goods such as cigarettes, rationed food, and bartered clothes. Aside from the German populace, there is the character of Hermann, Maria’s soldier of a husband. Anyone who has read World War II history especially on the Holocaust would generally have nothing but contempt for the Wehrmacht or the Nazi soldiers. And just as one finds it easy to be critical of the whole German population, it is even easier to picture the Wehrmacht as a homogeneous group that one has no desire to sympathize with. But Hermann’s character reminds viewers to see a Nazi soldier as someone other than a tool for Hitler’s megalomaniac plans for Europe or cold-blooded killers of the “races” Hitler hated. His sacrifice for his wife who he caught with a member of one of the Allied Powers while he had been nearly killed in the frontlines shows humanity, a quality that is hard to see among other films depicting German soldiers during World War II.

faysah said...

Finally, the film also dealt with a lot of negotiation of common concepts. Germany had to completely reshape its identity following the efforts of de-nazification after the fall of the Third Reich. Goldhagen (1996) insists in his book that an “eliminationist anti-Semitism” had always been present in German identity which may have made it easy for Germans to be willing participants in the persecution of Jews. Aside from ending Nazi policies and taking down the party’s symbols, Germany now had to negotiate what the new German identity would be after a period where the “Aryan race” was privileged among others. The difficulty of these changes and enforced negotiation for survival was depicted through Maria’s experiences during and after the war. She had to wrestle with certain values throughout the entire film. She first had to transcend certain standards when she worked at a club for American soldiers as jobs were scarce during the war. Next, she had to go outside the common belief that a Christian marriage is a contract for exclusivity when she had to engage in extra-marital affairs with Bill to survive the war and Oswald to secure a better life for her and Hermann. What is surprising is that she flicks away any sense of victimhood common to most people who have experienced the war by assuring her husband that she did not force herself into being a mistress. There was simply no time to feel sorry for oneself in the process of rebuilding a life shattered by war which was proven by Germany when it wasted no time in rebuilding itself as a European power. Currently, it is Europe’s biggest economy. Lastly, Maria had to negotiate the concept of fidelity. While love has been commonly associated with monogamy, Maria’s actions may force viewers to reconsider that it is possible to remain faithful to one’s spouse just by reserving one’s loyalty for that spouse while allocating some affection for others. This compartmentalization reflects the highly efficient culture seen in the German state as espoused by Max Weber’s ideal-rational bureaucracy where everything, including feelings, can be organized into divisions and hierarchies.

Goldhagen, Daniel Jonah. 1996. Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust. New York: Vintage Books.

Alex Allan said...

This is an excelente review. However, I would ask the critic to correct the spelling of the diretor's name .Fassbinder, and not Fazzbinder.