On learning of the death of her husband at the close of World War II, the young and brilliant Maria Braun pulls herself together and begins an upward climb in the economically-booming capitalist world of post-war Germany. Devastatingly sexy and formidably intelligent, she stops at nothing in her quests for power and wealth. Yet it always remains difficult for the audience to cast judgement on her: this is no crudely-drawn femme fatale caricature, but rather a superbly-acted and highly believable resourceful woman who has nothing to lose and everything to gain.
While the film is clearly a political allegory, it is by no means a simple condemnation of the builders of the new Germany. Fassbinder is much too subtle for that kind of didacticism. Although the shock ending of the film does offer a definite moral for the audience, the film offers a tentative but probing exploration of the post-war mentality. It is particularly evocative in its presentation of the gender roles that were developing at that time. All of this means that, as the credits scroll up, we are asked to re-examine our own society and indeed ourselves. One can imagine that this self-examination process would have been especially relevant to Fassbinder's contemporary audience, but even today and outside Germany, this well-crafted and moving film has much to offer.