“Women … 1 of them can ruin 10 men and still survive.”
Fassbinder’s masterpiece, The Stationmaster’s Wife is set in Bavaria in the 1920s and explores one of Fassbinder’s favourite themes–the exploitiveness of relationships. The stationmaster, Bolwieser (Kurt Rabb) is basically a good, but boring, man–he occupies a position of some importance in a small town. He bosses around his underlings who clearly have the stationmaster’s number. They scurry around when he shouts at them, but behind his back, they ridicule him. Bolwieser’s relationship with his wife, Hanni (Elisabeth Trissenaar) doesn’t exactly help matters. Hanni brings some family money to their relationship, so there’s an imbalance of power within the structure of the marriage. Bolwieser’s dog-like worship of Hanni does little more than grate on her nerves, and soon she takes a lover–Merkl, the town butcher.
Naturally, everyone in the town is well aware of Hanni’s relationship with Merkl, and the affair soon becomes a matter of gossip. And this is the fascinating aspect of this film–many would depict the cuckolded, spineless Bolwieser as an object of pity, or we might even expect him to exact revenge. In Fassbinder’s hands, Bolwieser becomes the object of humiliating, collective ridicule, and once he’s the town’s laughing stock, Hanni manipulates Bolwieser into suing the gossipmongers for perjury. Bolwieser’s weak character ensures that he will take the path of least resistance, and whatever Hanni dictates, Bolwieser does.
Fassbinder’s film is based on the novel by Oskar Marie Graf. Originally, Fassbinder created Bolwieser as a 2-part television play. After concluding the play, Fassbinder cut down the material he had and created the film version. The Stationmaster’s Wife has an episodic feel to it–perhaps this is due to the fact that several scenes were cut for the film version.
Fassbinder’s depiction of the pathological aspects of the Bolwiesers’ marriage is a searing, brutal and brilliant portrayal of the subtle power structures within the marriage. There are moments when Bolwieser has the upper hand–temporarily, and then he lavishes his drooling and unwelcome attentions on Hanni–often humiliating her while he has the chance. The ugliness and pettiness of small time life is emphasized through the perversity and grotesqueness of most of the characters. There’s one scene, for example, when several characters read a newspaper story about a mother who tries to drown her child. The characters find this story immensely entertaining and amusing, and they all have a good laugh. In other scenes, the camera emphasizes the grotesque qualities of the characters–the only physically appealing characters are Hanni and her lovers. If you enjoy this film, I also recommend, The Marriage of Maria Braun and Veronica Voss. Fassbinder is one of my favourite directors, and The Stationmaster’s Wife is one of his greatest films. In German with English subtitles.