Review: A Season of Fassbinder Films, Berlin 2007
Dir. Rainer Werner
Faßbinder, starring Kurt Raab
by Paul Murphy
Insel der Blütigen Plantage (1983), dir Kurt Raab,with Kurt Raab, Peter Kern
This season of Faßbinder films focuses mainly on, what it terms, the Faßbinder group (Gruppenbild mit RWF – Group Portrait with RWF) meaning that a Faßbinder film was, of course, much more than the input of one person, Rainer Werner Faßbinder. The Faßbinder masterpiece, The Marriage of Maria Braun, was preceded by an unknown work by Kurt Raab (1941-1987), Die Insel der blütigen Plantage (1983) (Island of the Bloody Plantation). Raab clearly intended to cash in on his association with Faßbinder in this abysmal Women in Prison picture, shot mainly in the Phillipines. The film is bad even by the low standards of the genre, a daft plot, weak, wooden acting, almost nothing to commend it. Not even sleaziness, abysmal jokes, rapine or violence, just a central message about the evils of authoritarianism so blatantly put it made this reviewer wince. The film demonstrates how intellectually null and void Raab had become, how eager he must have been to grab money from the general public. Oddly, even though many of the (male) producers of the film were Gay, they seem to totally mishandle the possibilities offered by the film to explore the discourse of femininity and authoritarianism. The film was a financial disaster which tells us that silly, greedy plots to obtain money from the general public by churning out vapid rubbish even when the churners happen to be former chums of a great artist, are generally doomed to be unsuccessful and rightly so. Faßbinder´s films worked because they are (albeit speedily made) poetic, intelligent, insightful, sensitive, interesting. They were made by someone who realised that artistic priorities come first, financial expectations and rewards being secondary. There was no quick way to fame and riches for Faßbinder.
Ehe der Maria Braun, Die (1979) dir Rainer Werner Faßbinder, starring Hanna Schygulla, Klaus Löwitsch, Ivan Desny
Yesterday I discovered the Landwehr Kanal in Berlin, near Potsdamer Straße. It was here that the bodies of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were thrown after their execution in 1919. Berlin´s grisly history is constantly unfolding, although it is perhaps predictable that this site is unmarked but a Denkmal (remembrance stone) for Karl Liebknecht stands in Potsdamer Platz. Germans discovered how difficult it is to hide a corpse. Somehow the past won´t go away, however much one wishes to forget it.
This was also the subject of Die Ehe der Maria Braun by Faßbinder which I watched at the Arsenal Kino at Potsdamer Platz on Saturday evening. At the end of the film Maria forgets to turn off the gas and blows the flat up, killing herself and Hermann, the husband she married for one and a half days during the war. The point being that Maria´s past never went away, even though she becomes ´the Mata Hari of the Wirtschaftwunder´ - economic miracle in Germany in the ´50s. She has an affair with a black GI, Mr Bill, murders him, has his stillborn baby. Her husband Hermann, firstly pronounced dead, turns up at the bedroom scene between Maria and Mr Bill, a a ghastly wraith, fights Mr Bill. Maria kills Mr Bill but Hermann takes the rap, goes to gaol. It´s never quite clear whether Hermann survives the war, or is merely a figment of Maria´s imagination, a delusion, fantasy, wish-fulfillment. Maria searches for him among the ruins of Berlin, the trummelfrau – rubble women – underscore exactly how desperate the black economy of post-war Germany was, how everyone wants to re-build Germany, a country that has lost all its pride, self-esteem. Eventually Maria makes the decision to move on.
Maria makes compromises with the rich French businessman Karl Osvald, becomes a senior manager. Osvald offers to leave Hermann his business in his will, if he will leave Maria alone until his death. Background sources such as media counterpoint the action. For instance, the radio commentator celebrates Germany´s 1954 World Cup victory, saying "Deutschland ist wieder was!" (Germany is something again!). Konrad Adenaeuer Germany´s first post-war (conservative) Chancellor announces that Germany will never re-arm only to state later that Germany has an inalienable right to re-arm. It seems that truth itself is negotiable, mutable, suited to the moment, to the listener. Everyone lacks integrity, economic success being the only criterion on which to judge personal actions, morality or the past.
The film ends with negative still photos of all the post-war German chancellors except Willy Brandt.
Now a part of film history, The Marriage of Maria Braun, marked, at the time, the high point of the German New Wave, which ended with Faßbinder´s death, the result of a drug overdose (it´s unclear whether it was suicide or an accident) in Munich in 1982. The film is pockmarked with Faßbinder´s ambivalent attitude to Hollywood, at first first a homage to the lush melodramas of Douglas (Detlef) Sirk but clearly also reflecting Faßbinder´s interest in European art movements such as the theatre of Antonin Artaud. (Of course, nothing could be farther from Hollywood melodrama than Artaud´s intense Theatre of Cruelty, his interest in surrealism, Alfred Jarry.)
The continuing relevance of Faßbinder was evidenced by a largish audience at the Arsenal for this further re-tread of a film that largely defined post-war German cinema.
Paul Murphy saw both films at the Arsenal cinema in Berlin.
For more Faßbinder, read Paul's reviews of Satansbraten, Despair, (A Journey into Light) and Chinese Roulette.