The film starts in Germany in 1943. During an Allied bombing raid Maria (Hanna Schygulla) marries the soldier Hermann Braun (Klaus Löwitsch). After “half a day and a whole night” together, Hermann returns to the front. Postwar, Maria is told that Hermann has been killed. Maria starts work as a hostess in a bar frequented by American soldiers. She has a relationship with an African-American soldier Bill (George Byrd), who supports her and gives her nylon stockings and cigarettes. She becomes pregnant by Bill.
Hermann, who was not killed, returns home to discover Maria and Bill undressing each other. A fight between Hermann and Bill ensues. When Hermann seems in danger, Maria unintentionally kills Bill, striking his head with a full bottle. Maria is tried by a military tribunal and expresses her love for both Bill and Hermann; Hermann is so struck with Maria’s devotion that he takes the blame for the killing and is imprisoned.
Maria likely aborts her pregnancy and asks her doctor to promise to maintain the grave. On the train home, Maria catches the eye of a wealthy industrialist, Karl Oswald (Ivan Desny). Oswald, an older man, offers her a position as his assistant, and shortly thereafter Maria becomes his mistress to “maintain the upper hand”. Maria visits Hermann again and tells him about the development, promising that their life will start as soon as he is released. Maria becomes wealthy and buys a house.
Oswald visits Hermann and offers to make him and Maria heirs to his wealth if Hermann deserts Maria after his release. Neither man tells Maria of their agreement. On release, Hermann emigrates to Canada and sends Maria a red rose each month to remind her he still loves her. Following Oswald’s death Hermann returns to Germany and to Maria. When Oswald’s will is read by the executor Senkenberg (Hark Bohm) Maria hears about Oswald’s agreement with Hermann. Distressed, Maria lights a cigarette and dies from an explosion of gas after she’d extinguished the burner of the stovetop she’d used to light a previous cigarette. Whether this is intentional or not is not clearly demonstrated.
The Marriage of Maria Braun (German: Die Ehe der Maria Braun) is a 1979 West German film directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder. The film stars Hanna Schygulla as Maria, whose marriage to the soldier Hermann remained unfulfilled due to World War II and his post-war imprisonment. Maria adapts to the realities of post-war Germany and becomes the wealthy mistress of an industrialist, all the while staying true to her love for Hermann. The film was one of the more successful works of Fassbinder and shaped the image of the New German Cinema in foreign countries. The film is the first installment of Fassbinder’s BRD Trilogy, followed by Veronika Voss and Lola.
The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979)
Directed by: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Starring: Hanna Schygulla, Klaus Löwitsch, Ivan Desny, Gisela Uhlen, Elisabeth Trissenaar, Gottfried John, George Eagles, Isolde Barth
Screenplay by: Pea Fröhlich, Peter Märthesheimer
Production Design by: Norbert Scherer
Cinematography by: Michael Ballhaus
Film Editing by: Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Juliane Lorenz
Costume Design by: Barbara Baum
Set Decoration by: Arno Mathes, Hans-Peter Sandmeier, Andreas Willim
Music by: Peer Raben
Distribution by: Trio Film
Release Date: March 23, 1979