Quick-Thoughts: Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Martha (1974)

Rainer Werner Fassbinder Marathon Part IV of X

Fassbinder’s strong point really is “horror”. I can’t believe this just ended up being a TV movie, smh. 

Martha (aka try not to let the Electra complex control you into tolerating a psychopathic husband) thinks love and marriage simply cannot compensate with reason sometimes. Imagine being so corrupted and beaten down by the power of jurisdiction that you can come to talking yourself out of recognizing your own power and importance. When you’re manipulated from the very start by gender authorities you begin to feel a withdrawal when it’s suddenly taken away from you, not knowing the happiness that free-will can bring you and conditioned to only finding that nonsensical dependence once more. If we treat each other like children all our lives, we should only expect childish, inequitable, and toxic relationships to be the definitive outcome of it.

Fassbinder smartly takes on a graphic approach here, continuously pounding violent visuals at us in a world that seems to be completely oblivious to them; there’s an absurdity to them yet a clear emphasis of realism towards what they represent. It reminds me of Luis Buñuel’s That Obscure Object of Desire just a tiny tiny bit with its constant heaving of abuse upon our lead protagonist, rippled off in the first place from their desperation for “objective” satisfaction through approval, as how society or rebellion demands it to be. This movie is incredibly shelled with a haunted house feeling of female oppression, showing how plenty of men incline themselves into basically locking women of the family up in cages and training them like pets through psychologically degrading methodologies; the abhorrence of female to male relational dynamics are so apparent in Fassbinder’s savage depiction of a woman unsure of her way in life that you embody this force inside of her to continue undergoing the abuse of men because they’ve tormented her to be so all her life by distancing her independence, swiping egoism (the basic human necessity) needed to truly experience freedom from their reach.

Of course, Martha‘s composition is dilated with more of Fassbinder’s signature blocking, yet with maybe my favorite color choices by him thus far with the set/light design — the library, the wedding, the garden… ugh! If that red and blue mirror/hallway contrast shot at minute 25 ain’t the sole definition of “visually appeasing” than I don’t know what is. Ohhh, and that relatable spin of anxiety that the camera does when Martha and Helmut (the two “lovers”) first see one another had me dizzy.

All in all, Martha is a pretty sturdy allegory for being an eternal victim, but one who occasionally walks right out in the open for nobody watching to understand. Precisely, though, it’s one dedicated to a bourgeoisie subject living in a 1970s Germany, a country currently recovering from their own past blind loyalties for leaders due to systematic manipulation (i.e. Hitler). Hint: these habits haven’t quite left them yet. 

Verdict: B+

Rainer Werner Fassbinder Ranked

“Martha” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

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