"Maria and Her Men"
Sensual and tough Maria Braun (Hanna Schygula) marries a soldier in the middle of World War II and spends a half of day and the whole night with him. That's how long her marriage lasts before she loses him to the war and then to prison. She carries on with her life, becomes a successful businesswoman being not only sensual but intelligent, ambitious, and willing to use sex whenever or wherever necessary: "I don't know a thing about business, but I do know what German women want. You might even say I'm an expert on it". While climbing up to the success she always remembers her husband, Hermann (her man) and convinces herself that whatever she does - is for him, for their future happy life together. "Maria Braun"'s style reminds much of melodramas by Fassbinder's favorite Hollywood director, Douglas Sirk and offers a glimpse of the loss and survival in postwar Germany. Hanna Schygula literally shines in every scene of the movie and she is fantastic.
"Lorelei and the Man Who Understood and Admired Her"
"Lola" (1981), the second chapter of Fassbinder's BRD Trilogy is an update and a remake (in a way) of "The Blue Angel"(1930) directed by Josef von Sternberg with magnificent Marlene Dietrich as a singer Lola Lola but Fassbinder's film is marvelous by itself. Like "Marriage of Maria Braun" (1979) and "Veronica Voss" (1982) "Lola" tells the story of a strong and beautiful woman and her survival and search for love, success and happiness in postwar Germany. It's superb and dazzling and I kept smiling all time while I was watching it. It's an old story (and what is new in this world? Carmen had been dead and Lola Lola is old) but the style, the approach, the times, the place, his use of colors that seem to sing, to smile, to scream and to touch you gently are unique. Did he sell his soul to the Devil for these colors? The dresses, the songs, Barbara's voice, her legs that grow from the ears, her hair, oh my God, her and Hanna's (in "Marriage of Maria Braun) golden hair, these witching Loreleis, the walking sensuality - Fassbinder understood and admired women and I admire him for that.
"Lola" is a combination of many genres- satire, drama, comedy, and musical. It mixes glamor with very serious themes. Striking Barbara Sukowa is a singer-whore Lola who sets up to seduce the incorruptible local building commissioner, unbelievably blue-eyed Armin Mueller-Stahl. Lola went through many losses, humiliations, and disappointments during the war and right after it and she wants to be an independent business woman for which she decided to win over the man everyone kept telling was not for her.
As Barbara Sukowa recalls, Fassbinder told the critical stories but he did not make them dry or theoretical. He did not use the intellectual or academic approach to his stories. He hated gray "kitchen" naturalism and he was mixing Hollywood glamor with specific German realities creating his own style that was sexy and appealing. While many German film makers of his generation were influenced by the American directors like Martin Scorsese and John Cassavetes, Fassbinder was very impressed by Douglas Sirk and his style.
Rainer Werner Fassbinder died at the age of 37 just as he was completing his last movie, "Querell". He had made over 30 films during 12 years. He began directing in 1969 revealing in his work New Germany, often heartless and materialistic. Fassbinder's talent and the quantity and quality of his output are incredible. It is like he knew he would die young and he was obsessed by finishing as many films as it was physically possible, majority of which (including "Lola") was way ahead of their time.
"Dances with Death"
A famous German actress, Veronika Voss (Rozel Zech) in her forties tries to revive her career while struggling with alcohol and drugs in the final chapter to Fassbinder's trilogy about collapse of the West German postwar dream. The film was inspired by the tragic life of famous UFA actress, Sybille Schmitz (1909-1955). She began her career in the films by the giants such Georg Wilhelm Pabst and Carl Theodor Dreyer and soon became one of Germany's beloved actress. Everything changed during the WWII and especially after its end.
Fassbinder's film which was shot in black and white visually is very impressive. "Light and shadows are two cinema's best secrets" says Veronika in the movie and light and shadows make the film a joy to behold. I like it but I think it is the weakest part of the trilogy perhaps because "Lola" and "Maria Braun" are so strong. I found the documentary about Sybille Schmitz, "Dances with Death" which is included on Criterion DVD much more compelling.
Veronika - 3.5/5
Dances with Death 4/5