The BRD Trilogy (German: BRD-Trilogie) consists of three films directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder: The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979), Veronika Voss (1982), and Lola (1981). The films are connected in a thematic rather than in a narrative sense. All three deal with different characters (though some actors recur in different roles) and plotlines, but each one focuses on the story of a specific woman in West Germany after World War II. The three letter acronym "BRD" stands for Bundesrepublik Deutschland, the official name of West Germany and of the united contemporary Germany.
The Marriage of Maria Braun
The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979) begins in the last days of World War II during the rushed marriage ceremony of Maria Braun, after which her husband is sent to battle the advancing Allies. After Maria later hears that he has been killed, she becomes the mistress of an African-American soldier. When Maria’s husband unexpectedly returns alive, she kills the soldier in a scuffle, but her husband takes the blame. Maria becomes the self-centered assistant and lover of a wealthy industrialist and a model of post-war recovery.
Veronika Voss (1982) depicts the twilight years of film actress Veronika Voss in stark black-and-white. A sports reporter becomes enthralled by the unbalanced actress and discovers that she is under the power of a villainous doctor who keeps her addicted to opiates in order to steal her wealth. Despite his best attempts, he is unable to save her from a terrible end. The original German title, Die Sehnsucht der Veronika Voss, translates as "The longing of Veronika Voss".
Lola (1981) is loosely based on Josef von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel and its source novel Professor Unrat by Heinrich Mann. It tells the story of an upright new building commissioner named Von Bohm who comes to a small town. He falls in love with Lola, innocent of the fact that she is a famed prostitute and the mistress of Shuckert, an unscrupulous developer. Unable to reconcile his idealistic images of Lola with reality, Von Bohm spirals into the very corruption he had sought to fight.
Background and structure
Fassbinder had the idea of making a series of films that focus on West Germany during the "economic miracle" of the 1950s. The main characters were all female, representing different people in different circumstances. While the original treatments and stories were developed by Fassbinder himself, the detailed scripts for all three films were written by screenwriter Peter Märthesheimer, who had worked with the director as a commissioning producer and script editor of some of his TV projects, with the help of his then partner Pea Fröhlich.
The films were shot and released in a slightly different order to their accepted numbering. Maria Braun, released in 1979, is the earliest in terms of both production and the chronology of the plot, beginning in 1945. However it only became part of the trilogy retrospectively, when Fassbinder added the caption "BRD 3" to Lola when it was released in 1981. Veronika Voss, released a year later as Fassbinder's penultimate film before his death, included the caption "BRD 2" and is set in a slightly earlier period than Lola. Fassbinder did not intend the series to stop at a trilogy but his plans to make further films in the same mould were cut short by his death.
Aside from Fassbinder's original intentions of making films about West Germany after World War II and during the "economic miracle," there are other threads that tie these three distinct films together.
One common thread is the issue of "forgetting the past for the sake of moving to a brighter future." All the main characters in the three films are trying to overcome their present circumstances, largely created by past experiences. This is a criticism by Fassbinder of West Germany in the 1950s and afterward for "forgetting" its Nazi period (i.e. allowing former Nazi officials to function in society, even holding positions of political power) and moving ahead as a country (i.e. regaining international respectability and prestige). The painful past is neither acknowledged nor confronted in the historical amnesia.
A second parallel is the question of who exactly benefited from West Germany's economic progress. Fassbinder's view was clearly that some Germans advanced during the "economic miracle," but others fell. For everyone who has a better life (more wealth, security, and peace), someone else suffers and loses. Veronika Voss is an example of someone who does not benefit in Germany after the war because her acting career was most prominent during the Third Reich. Maria Braun is someone who takes a strong initiative to advance economically for the sake of herself and her husband, but she hurts others in the process and in the end is emotionally distant from her husband and her family. Lola tries to take advantage of economic progress and uses her position for advancement, but others who surround her try to achieve the same end with mixed results.
An additional commonality is the inclusion of African-American soldiers in all three films. In The Marriage of Maria Braun there are two, a gentlemanly soldier who becomes Maria's lover and another who drunkenly accosts her on a train. The latter character is played by Günther Kaufmann, who also plays African-American soldiers in the other two films. It is unclear if the soldier is supposed to be the same person in all three films. The soldier can be taken as a representation of the influence of the American occupation on post-war Germany, though the fact that he is African-American could have other implications.
Each of the films employs a very distinctive style (especially in its cinematography) to better reflect the characters. The Marriage of Maria Braun appears with much of its color drained. Veronika Voss uses a very rich black and white, similar to film noir or German Expressionist films of the 1920s. Lola is influenced by Josef von Sternberg's The Blue Angel and uses very bold colors in a manner similar to Technicolor.