Institute History

  • 1997 Sundance Film Festival


Fassbinder made Martha during a break in filming Effi Briest, so it’s not surprising that the two share the same theme: why women allow themselves to be oppressed. After her tyrannical father dies, Martha decides to marry Helmut, an older man who dominates her even more. In fact his treatment of her is actually sadistic and cruel. He separates her from everything and everyone she cares about and completely curtails her freedom.

When Martha finally rebels by running off with a former associate from work, there is an accident, he is killed, and she is crippled. In the final shot of the film, the metal doors of the hospital close as her husband pushes her away in a wheelchair. Now she is his forever.It is Fassbinder’s contention that most women choose restriction and oppression because that’s what they are used to from their upbringing. “That doesn’t mean that they don’t suffer,” he adds. “I know some fairly emancipated women who enjoy being repressed and at the same time fight against their repression. It’s a state full of contradictions.” The style of Martha is relentlessly direct and heavily melodramatic. Fassbinder uses mirrors and circular tracking shots to emphasize Martha’s entrapment and isolation. The film understandably earned him the title of a misogynist.

— Barbara Bannon

Screening Details

  • Section: Rainer Werner Fassbinder: Modern Renaissance Man
  • Film Type: Dramatic Feature
  • Country: Germany
  • Run Time: 112 min.
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