In a wrecked post-war Germany, Wehrmacht officer's wife Maria Braun tries to adjust on a post-Nazi society and becomes the mistress of a businessman and a successful business woman herself, whole trying to build a future for her and her husband Hermann. The film itself is a parable for West Germany's economical miracle.
The film was perhaps the most successful work of Fassbinder and first installment of Fassbinder's BRD Trilogy, followed by Veronika Voss and Lola. It is also a Roger Ebert favourite and added the film to his Great Movies List.
This film features the following tropes:
- Beta Couple: Maria's friends Willi and Betti Klenze who eventually go through a divorce.
- Book-Ends: The film starts and ends with an explosion: the former is an Allied bombing raid, the latter a domestic accident that blows up Maria's home.
- Cunning Linguist: Maria starts to work for Karl Oswald as an English translator until she becomes an executive herself.
- Dogged Nice Guy: Both Bill and Karl Oswald are this for the already married Maria.
- Downer Ending: Maria and Hermann die for a random (or maybe not) domestic accident, just minutes after they gained the wealth they've been wishing since the War's end.
- Femme Fatale: A rare protagonist example, as Maria uses her beauty, sexuality and brains to survive Post-war society.
- Gorgeous Period Dress: Maria wears very fancy clothes when as she's getting wealthier and wealthier.
- Irony: The finale has the Braun kitchen room blowing up in a domestic accident while the radio plays broadcast of the West German football team defeating Hungary's Mighty Magyars in the World Cup Final.
- I Will Wait for You: Despite her (necessary) infidelities, the leitmotif of this film is Maria waiting for her husband to come back.
- The Mistress: Maria becomes the mistress of entrepreneur Karl Oswald, constantly turning off his marriage proposal and keeping her marriage a secret.
- Murder the Hypotenuse: Maria accidentally murders Bill when he puts out a fight with Hermann who has just come back from the Eastern front.
- Parent with New Paramour: Surprisingly, Maria's mother finds a new partner despite her Despair Speech about loosing the love of her life at the beginning of the film.
- Post-Historical Trauma : This film deals with the trauma of the post-war German generation, dealing both with the violence and fallout of the war, perhaps more than any work made by Fassbinder.
- Rags to Riches: The main point of the plot is Maria becoming from poor war refugee to a wealthy businesswoman. How she got there and how it affected her personally is totally another matter.
- Wartime Wedding: The very first scene has the protagonist Maria marrying her Wehrmacht beau During an allied bombing raid.
- Where Da White Women At?: Maria has a loving relationship with Bill, and Afro-American soldier who gets her pregnant and asks her to marry him, which she turns down because wants to stay faithful to the presumably dead Hermann in her own way. And then Hermann comes back and finds the two of them making out...
- Woman in White: Maria wears a fancy white dress in her last scene just before her house is blown up and she dies.