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Foreign Films > The BRD Trilogy (Rainer Werner Fassbinder)

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message 1: by Phillip (last edited Feb 23, 2010 11:56PM) (new)

Phillip I would like to write about the three films that comprise Fassbinder’s reconstruction trilogy. These movies, along with Berlin Alexanderplatz, Ali: Fear Eats The Soul, and The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant, are a few of Fassbinder’s celebrated masterworks. The BRD Trilogy portrays a Germany struggling to regain economic stability and its cultural identity after World War II. Each work uses a central female protagonist to explore themes of renewal, be it economical, political, emotional, or psychological.

A Squadron of SPOILERS:

The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979)

Fassbinder’s first entry features an outstanding performance by Hanna Schygulla as Maria, a woman who marries a soldier in the midst of war and has a day and a half with her spouse before he leaves for the Russian front. After an opening title sequence that illustrates Maria’s marriage has been borne in chaos, the film quickly jumps to the close of the war, as German society struggles to get on its feet.

Maria comes to depend on a variety of men (and women) to survive the initial days and weeks and months while buildings familiar to her are being put back together brick by brick. She struggles to maintain control by remaining detached from deep emotional commitment, but fate and human nature challenge her at every step. Eventually her husband returns, but complications arise and he is sent to prison. Always the girl with a plan, she uses her clever wit to win the confidence of a wealthy businessman and together they form a partnership that makes her wealthy. Her hope is that she will amass a fortune for her and her husband that they can enjoy when he is released.

Fassbinder constructs the thorny politics of Maria’s renewal with painstaking care, creating a complex psychological portrait that is embedded in a larger community of characters. These players, many of whom are desperate, seek different existential solutions for their survival. Like Lola, the final work in the trilogy, The Marriage of Maria Braun explores a kaleidoscope of personalities – a virtual matrix of German society that plays out on the stage of this highly charged drama.

As in many of his films, the art direction and photography are highly stylized – Fassbinder’s take on the post-war new wave of international cinema is radically different than Italian neo-realism. Instead of offering a bleak outlook on poverty and individuals in existential crisis, he infuses his characters with energy and passion. He is an unabashed artist that uses extreme color and image distortion to forge unique works that often reflect a hyper-reality. Fassbinder’s style and his personal life were similar in this regard – he was the notorious bad boy of the German New Wave who died relatively young (in his late 30’s), leaving behind an impressive output of nearly 40 films.

The Marriage of Maria Braun is recommended to anyone that enjoys films that explore sexual politics and complex moral issues. It is also a pure delight to watch (despite some of the subject matter), a visual feast of color and dazzling cinematography.

message 2: by Steve (last edited Feb 24, 2010 05:10AM) (new)

Steve | 957 comments Haven't seen this trilogy in quite a while, though it's sitting on my bookshelf. Great films, though. I like a few other Fassbinder films as personal favorites over these (MERCHANT OF FOUR SEASONS; WHY DOES HERR R. RUN AMOK?; SATAN'S BREW), but this trilogy contains the most important works, I think. (Haven't seen BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ.)

message 3: by Phillip (last edited Feb 24, 2010 09:24AM) (new)

Phillip thanks for your short list, steve-o. i haven't seen any of those ... i'll look for them. i think i have why does herr r run amok in my netflix queue. i also own the criterion berlin alexanderplatz box (but some friend borrowed it long ago and hasn't returned it...grrrrrr), and it's really something. i saw it (all!) on the big screen years ago at the castro. kind of exhausting to watch it that way actually...

maria braun and lola are my favorites from this trilogy. veronica voss is really nice to watch (excellent black and white cinematography), but it's a little on the cold side in terms of the narrative. nonetheless, it features a compelling performance by rozel zech in the title role.

message 4: by Tom (new)

Tom | 5543 comments Good God, Philip. You saw BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ at the Castro -- and survived?

message 5: by Steve (new)

Steve | 957 comments Wow, yeah, what Tom said. That's a feat.

message 6: by Phillip (last edited Feb 24, 2010 01:47PM) (new)

Phillip it was shown over two days...(and back before they put in the new comfy seats!). i think it was six episodes one day, and six episodes and the epilogue on the second day...a total of 13 hours of cinema in two days.

i couldn't have made if it weren't for marcello's pizza and their magnificent slices across the street.

message 7: by Phillip (last edited Mar 30, 2010 09:39AM) (new)

Phillip Veronika Voss (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1982)

The second film in Fassbinder's BRD trilogy features Rosel Zech as Veronika Voss, an aging actress popular in the Third Reich, but conveniently forgotten in the 1950's reconstruction period. The film is based on the real life story of Sybille Schmitz, star of numerous films to come out of UFA studios (the party's mouthpiece).

The film posts a fine mystery at the heart of the narrative - Ms. Voss meets a sports reporter down on his luck in the rain one evening and he offers her his umbrella. Addicted to the attention of an adoring public she no longer commands, she takes his gesture of kindness and develops a relationship with him that begins to uncover strange secrets: a doctor who runs a clinic seems to control her every movement; an elderly couple who are holocaust survivors are in possession of some of her elegant finery; the reporter strives to put the pieces together realizing that in the end this journey could bring his own downfall. He begins to care for her and feel sympathy, even as their relationship begins to take its toll on his own love life. There are inevitable echoes of Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard in the mix, and Fassbinder keeps an even balance of psychological inquiry and thriller throughout.

The movie is shot in high-contrast black and white photography, which is blanched and brimming with light. The extreme use of light tempts to viewer to relate it to the potential for Voss' renewal, but it could just as easily represent that she is washed out and that the life she lives is sterile and bloodless.

I take back my earlier statement that Veronika Voss boasts a cold narrative - while Fassbinder certainly keeps his thematic elements restrained in this film, he also embeds his protagonist (the reporter) with humanity. At the heart of the film, Fassbinder seems to suggest that artists are inevitably cannibalized by the society that hoists them to stardom. Veronika Voss easily merits the high acclaim RWF received for his trilogy.

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