Quad Cinema’s Introductory Notes on Ash is Purest White: Jia Zhangke’s oeuvre epitomizes many of the most vital aspects of contemporary Mainland Chinese filmmaking: acute sociopolitical awareness, impressive acting, and a sui generis approach to genre storytelling influenced by a rich yet fragmented cultural history. Ash is no different, subtly mapping the seismic effects of China’s post-socialist economy over the span of two decades.—Kyle Pletcher, front of house staff
Criterion Collection’s Introductory Notes on The Marriage of Maria Braun: Maria (Hanna Schygulla) marries Hermann Braun in the last days of World War II, only for him to go missing in the war. Alone, Maria puts to use her beauty and ambition in order to find prosperity during Germany’s “economic miracle” of the 1950s. Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s biggest international box-office success, The Marriage of Maria Braun is a heartbreaking study of a woman picking herself up from the ruins of her own life, as well as a pointed metaphorical attack on a society determined to forget its past.
Roger Ebert’s 2005 Essay on The Marriage of Maria Braun: 1) Fassbinder’s world was one in which sex, ego and money drove his characters to cruelty, sadism and self-destruction. It is never difficult to discover what they want, or puzzling to see how they go about it. 2) …observe how they like to keep the camera moving, through elegant setups in which characters and locations are arranged so that the fluid visuals flow from long shots through closeups without cutting, often moving behind walls, peering through doors and windows, looking around posts, so that the characters seem jammed into the space around them. 3) Hanna Schygulla, who met Fassbinder in school and starred in 20 of his films, had an uncanny ability to float just out of range of analysis, as if she were not acting but getting her effects through dreamy murderous impulses — that despite the fact that every shot was precisely blocked and the dialogue has the precision and brutality of a play by Neil LaBute.
Derek Malcom’s 1999 Essay on The Marriage of Maria Braun: 1) He was half infatuated and half repelled by Hollywood, and the film’s form shows that. But it could never have been made in America, since it takes a highly political account of a period in German history and, on almost every frame, he stamps his sour opinion of the downside of that country’s post-war economic miracle. 2) In it, he allows us to identify with his heroine utterly, as she ruthlessly gets everything she wants in preparation for her reunion with her husband. But he does so for a purpose – to shock us into the realisation that Germany’s post-war prosperity was, like ours, based on a series of false premises, which eventually infected those who believed in it. 3) The miracle is that Fassbinder was able […] to direct Schygulla and the film so precisely. Apparently he even instructed her how to move her fingers. His movies are generally about the oppressor and the oppressed. But The Marriage Of Maria Braun was less about Hollywood’s familiar idea of the redeeming nature of love than the fact that love is often the worst oppressor of all. In Fassbinder’s own life, as in his art, that was certainly true.