By Richard Winters
My Rating: 8 out of 10
4-Word Review: Maria gets her way.
Maria’s (Hanna Schygulla) husband a soldier in World War II is presumed dead. She decides to make her mark by getting a job and a new lover in the form of a black man named Bill (George Eagles), but complications ensue when her husband Hermann (Klaus Lowitsch) shows up very much alive. Maria enjoys her new found independence and isn’t interested in falling back into her old role, which causes friction with her husband as well as her interactions with others.
Director Rainer Werner Fassbinder creates a unique vision and manages to walk the balance between the gritty and surreal. The lighting is evocative and shadowy and nicely reflects his stage background. The sets are colorful and varied and one becomes almost hypnotically entranced with the visuals. The abandoned buildings and rundown locales especially at the beginning make a strong impression and become like a third character. Fassbinder echoes the desperation of the characters through visual means only without ever having to resort to melodramatics, which alone makes this a classic and far better than some other similar films about the period.
Equally great use is made of sound with two to three layers of it within each scene. Whether it is the noise of a radio, traffic, or someone whistling there is always some noise coming from the background much like in reality, which helps in a subtle way to make the scenes more vivid. I loved the dolly shots constantly moving the camera around in every scene throughout the rooms that the characters are in giving the viewer a full sense of their dimensions and helping breakdown the fourth wall.
Some memorable scenes include the moment when Maria’s husband comes back from the war and catches Maria in a compromising position with her new found lover. There are at least four minutes here where there is no talking from any of the characters and one becomes riveted with the silent reactions of the three, which proves powerful. Even the erotic overtones work. Normally I find that area to be rather clichéd and mechanical, but here the sweat glistening off the naked bodies seems genuinely evocative and enticing.
Many people feel this is a movie about budding feminism and applaud the strong female character. I really wouldn’t argue with that and in many ways it is fun seeing this woman forge her way ahead while remaining poised and stalwart throughout. Her relationship with rich businessman Karl (Ivan Desny) and the way she turns him into a subservient to her every whim while also explaining to him that ‘he isn’t having an affair with her, but instead SHE is having one with him’ is classic, but I also felt it seemed a bit artificial. Having a strong central character is one thing, but this woman seems inhuman. She never shows any vulnerability at any time and appears almost completely removed from the environment around her. Never once does she flinch, compromise, or back down from anything or anyone, which just isn’t possible and makes Maria one-dimensional in the process. A character is more interesting when their flaws are exposed and then they must work hard to overcome them, but this one doesn’t have any, which is my biggest issue with this otherwise excellent production.
My Rating: 8 out of 10
Released: February 20, 1979
Runtime: 1Hour 58Minutes
Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Studio: United Artists
Available: VHS, DVD (The Criterion Collection)