Review: ‘The BRD Trilogy’

Rainer Werner Fassbinder named his essential trilogy after the Federal Republic of Germany ("Bundesrepublik Deutschland"). The films examine the post-WWII German economic miracle, or "Wirtschaftswunder," with the director's customarily pitiless, melodramatic insight. Criterion's stylish, extras-laden, four-disc package follows its superb pressing of "Ali: Fear Eats the Soul."

Rainer Werner Fassbinder named his essential trilogy after the Federal Republic of Germany (“Bundesrepublik Deutschland”). The films examine the post-WWII German economic miracle, or “Wirtschaftswunder,” with the director’s customarily pitiless, melodramatic insight. Criterion’s stylish, extras-laden, four-disc package follows its superb pressing of “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul.” Along with other revived video titles and recent theatrical retrospectives, the set reps a welcome return to the limelight of the prolific filmmaker, who died in 1982 of an apparent drug overdose at age 37.

Inspired by the American work of Douglas Sirk and troubled by what he perceived to be a collective West German memory loss in the 1970s, Fassbinder had long planned a series of melodramas tracing the fictive fates of different women in the wake of the war. Thus, Hanna Schygulla’s “Maria Braun” is a resourceful but doomed survivor. Rosel Zech’s “Veronika Voss” channels Third Reich starlet-turned-recluse Sybille Schmitz. Barbara Sukowa’s “Lola,” built on the framework of von Sternberg’s “The Blue Angel, epitomizes what RWF saw as the unapologetic capitalist greed of the late 1950s.

Initially controversial, the trio plays today with visual vim and intellectual vigor. Note the trilogy is presented slightly out of chronological production order, presumably so the stories themselves adhere to a linear timeline.

Extra materials are as bounteous and intense as Fassbinder’s career output of some 60 films in 13 years, according to helmer and friend Christian Braad Thomsen. Each pic has an available commentary track: Wim Wenders, D.P. Michael Ballhaus and an academic narration on “Maria,” scholar Tony Rayns on “Veronika” and Thomsen on “Lola.”

Each disc also sports contempo interview footage with principals. Clocking in at a whopping 202 minutes, the fourth disc of supplements collects the longest known tube interview with Fassbinder himself. It also has a conversation between Lorenz and MoMA senior film curator Laurence Kardish, a new interview with cinematographer Xaver Schwarzenberger, and the feature-length 1993 docu on the helmer, “I Don’t Just Want You to Love Me.”

The 52-page booklet features an incisive new essay by Kent Jones and illuminating production histories by author Michael Toteberg. The sheer volume of information, peppered with illuminating anecdotes and poignant remembrances, makes for as complete and incisive an analysis of this pivotal trilogy as is ever likely to be issued.

The BRD Trilogy

Production

"The Marriage of Maria Braun": A Criterion Collection release of the Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation presentation of the 1979 Trio Films production. Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Screenplay, Peter Marthesheimer, Pea Froelich, with additional dialogue by RWF. Release: Sep. 30, 2003

Cast

With: Hanna Schygulla, Klaus Loewitsch, Ivan Desny.
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