If you’re a fan of German cinema, or the art house scene of the 1970s, then you’re likely already familiar with Rainer Werner Fassbinder. The German director, writer and actor is considered to be an important figure in the New German Cinema movement that took place from the 1960s until the 1980s. The Criterion Collection have honored a number of his films. The films are typically low budget and gritty with commentary on society. Although Fassbinder died in 1982 at the age of 37, he made 40 full-length films. For this feature I’m going to highlight three of those films: Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, Fox and His Friends, Marriage of Maria Braun.
Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (Angst essen Seele auf)
When Ali, a Moroccan guest worker in Germany, becomes involved with Emmi, an older German woman working as a maid, society doesn’t approve. But the couple’s relationship seems genuine. She’s smitten and likes caring for and learning about the younger man while he appreciates her friendship and her selflessness. The couple’s relationship is put to the test, however, as Emmi’s coworkers begin ignoring her, her local grocer won’t sell to her and her own children make it clear they don’t approve. Meanwhile Ali’s friends aren’t very encouraging either. Watch for Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s cameo as Emmi’s son-in-law Eugen.
Fox and His Friends (Faustrecht der Freiheit)
Fox (portrayed by Fassbinder himself) is a down on his luck circus performer but he always believes it’s his lucky week. To make ends meet, he starts hustling men. But Fox has a bit of luck when he wins the lottery. Seeing his new found wealth, the people he thinks are his friends start to take advantage of him. That includes his new boyfriend who is happy to spend Fox’s money on a lavish apartment, clothing and an exciting and glitzy life. But the money hasn’t made Fox happy, especially after he invests in the failing family business of his boyfriend, only to see the money disappear.
Marriage of Maria Braun (Die Ehe der Maria Braun)
Times were tough in post-WWII Germany and no one knows that better than Maria Braun. With her beloved husband missing in action after the war, she struggles to make ends meet. She finds comfort in the arms of Bill, an African-American serviceman, only to have her long lost husband return home. When Bill’s accidentally killed by Maria in a struggle, her husband accepts the blame. But it’s when Maria catches the eye of a wealthy businessman that she continues to improve her situation. Consider it the German answer to Gone with the Wind.