XL Popcorn – High Plains Drifter / The Marriage of Maria Braun

We appear to be in the home stretch here. The pain is not as it once was, but it still means I can not type for longer than a few minutes without my wrist hurting or my fingers from going numb. So the dictated reviews and a ridiculous posting schedule continues on.

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”Title: High Plains Drifter
Director: Clint Eastwood
Year: 1973
Country: USA

Welcome to the world of the ‘weird west’. I think that I have been getting a real education when it comes to the world of the western movie and High Plains Drifter has only added to it. What makes for a ‘weird west’ film? Well, just add supernatural elements to a western movie and that’s about it.

The score alone makes this feel like a weird western movie. Dee Roberts managed to create a western score like I have never heard before. It’s eerie and unsettling, which only heightens the uncertainty of Clint Eastwood’s nameless character.

Speaking of his character – he is an awful man. One of the first things he does is to rape a woman just because she was a bit rude to him. He plays it off like she wanted it and despite her cries for justice the rest of the town refuse to hear her out as they don’t see it as being worth her while. As she says, he did it in broad daylight.

The thing is… that’s the point of it all. Here is a stranger rolling into town and the townsfolk are so beyond saving that they won’t save one of their own from being raped. We later find out in the past that they stood idly by and watched as their marshall was bullwhipped to death. The woman in question being one of the people that stood and watched.

Over the course of the film we see Clint Eastwood’s stranger pretty much dismantle this entire town financially, psychologically and (eventually) physically. Who he is… depends on the version you watch. If you watch it in English it is clear that he is the spirit of the marshall who has come back to take vengeance. In foreign versions he’s the brother. I like the idea that he is a troubled spirit because it makes his ridiculously amazing gunslinging make a lick of sense.

The whole film started out being inspired by the infamous murder of Kitty Genovese where a woman was stabbed to death in plain daylight and no onlookers did anything to help her. As allegories go it’s a pretty powerful reference. The thing that I really disliked in this film, however, is how the women were treated. If the whole thing was inspired by the murder of this woman then why are all the women in this town treated worse than cattle?

Still, as a different kind of western this was an entertaining watch.

Title: The Marriage of Maria Braun (Die Ehe der Maria Braun)
Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Year: 1979
Country: Germany

The tagline for the 1946 film Gilda is “There NEVER was a woman like Gilda!” and I never quite thought that it fit that film. I would, however, say it was a line that could be applied to Maria Braun.

This is one of those films that I have been waiting to see for a very long time based on the description in the 1001 book. The thing is, there is a bit of a major mistake in their description. It says in the book that she accidentally kills an American soldier who tries to rape her… but she was in a relationship with him and it was full consent. It just happens that the husband she thought was dead catches them about to have sex and she wants to defend her husband from her lover. It’s an important plot point and it’s weird way to frame that moment in the book.

Despite that mistake I thought this was a great film and it’s all because of Maria Braun. We start off in 1943 on her wedding day as the building she gets married in is bombed by Allied planes. After a day and a night her husband goes off to way, presumed dead. Through various situations that occur she never gets a chance to truly be live a married life with her husband for the next decade. I would go into it, but spoilers.

The role of Maria Braun has to be one of the great cinematic roles created for a woman. It’s also an incredible tightrope for actress to have to walk. At all times Braun has to remain sympathetic, but over the course of the film we see the previously idealistic woman have to harden against life in post-WWII Germany. As she says in the film, “it’s not a good time for feelings”. She does all this whilst remaining truly faithful to her husband of two days. It’s an astonishing show of love.

By the end of the film she is but a cynical shade of the woman that we previously got to know and it is heartbreaking. It is a true joy to watch Hanna Schygulla inhabit the role with charm, wit and astonishing self-confidence.

Other than a tour de force performance from Schygulla, the thing that keeps this film going is a rollercoaster of emotional twists and turns in the script. A lot of hands touched the script, but the film feels very much the work of one vision. It’s not the first film to depict a woman taking the reins in a post-war country in order to survive and ‘create [her] own miracles’ but it is certainly one of the finer examples of this story.

Just to think that before Ali: Fear Eats the Soul I had never seen a film by Rainer Fassbinder and now I have seen two that I would rank as 9/10s. I still have two of them left to cover from the book. I do wonder if they will be able to come close to the two I have already seen.

Progress: 550/1007

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