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STATIONMASTER’S WIFE, THE (BOLWIESER) (TV)(director/writer: Rainer Werner Fassbinder; screenwriter: from the novel by Oskar Maria Graf; cinematographer: Michael Ballhaus; editors: Rainer Werner Fassbinder/Juliane Lorenz/Ila von Hasperg; music: Peer Raben; cast: Elisabeth Trissenaar (Hanni Bolwieser), Kurt Raab (Xaver Ferdinand Maria Bolwieser – Station Master), Bernhard Helfrich (Franz Merkl), Karl-Heinz von Hassel (Windegger), Volker Spengler (Mangst), Gustl Bayrhammer (Neidhard – Hanni’s Father), Udo Kier (Schafftaler); Runtime: 111; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Herbert Knopp/Willi Segler; New Yorker Films; 1977-West Germany-in German with English subtitles)
“Follows along the Sirkian themes of dissecting the petit bourgeois.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This affected domestic drama is a loose version of Madam Bovary, adapted from the novel by Oskar Maria Graf. It’s a condensed version of a Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s ( “Satan’s Brew”/”Despair”) over three-hour Bavarian TV film from 1977. It’s set in the small Bavarian town of Werburg prior to Hitler’s rise to power in the late 1920s. The film follows along the Sirkian themes of dissecting the petit bourgeois and their morality, uncovering the lies and deception that takes place in their marriages, business dealings and the decaying nature of their conformist society that leads up to fascism. Elisabeth Trissenaar gives forth a great Garbo-like performance as Hanni Bolwieser, the errant wife of the provincial stationmaster Xaver Bolwieser (Kurt Raab).

The proud, ugly, obese, civil-servant Xaver is obsessed with his new wife and reacts in an embarrassed manner when there’s gossip about his hottie 32-year-old wife having an affair with the handsome butcher Merkl (Bernhard Helfrich). Bored with her dull and plodding hubby Hanni seeks forbidden pleasure and the best cuts of meat from her ambitious lover. Merkl maneuvers to get Hanni to loan him her own money to invest in a restaurant, as Xaver agrees to the transaction after being convinced he’s a good risk because of his business acumen and that the two are friends and not lovers.

In the oppressive atmosphere of the Weimar provinces, the figures involved in the love triangle fear their lives have been compromised as the town’s laughing stocks. So Merkl brings a law suit of slander against the three biggest rumor mongers and wins when Xaver commits perjury claiming not to know about his wife’s affair. Soon afterwards the restless and self-loathing Hanni tires with Merkl and after getting the latest Garbo hairstyle begins an affair with her slick hairdresser Schafftaler (Udo Kier). When Merkl complains, she cuts off the loan. Since Merkl can’t get the drunken weakling Xaver to stop the affair, he brings charges of perjury against the stationmaster stemming from the previous law suit trial and the disgraced Xaver is convicted and sentenced to four years. Hanni also divorces him to be with her Valentino-like looking hairdresser. The episode symbolizes the breakdown of the civil-servant class, the backbone of the country, who are replaced by those of questionable morals, willing to do anything to satisfy their hedonistic pleasures and tortured souls and who are quite willing to follow a law that is blind to justice.

The pleasures derived are from seeing this cheerless middle-class world through Fassbinder’s perceptive eyes and the way his visually pleasing highly stylized camera shots and studied dramatics exploit the breakdown taking place in German society of that period. When Werburg’s cuckolded model citizen is depicted as so blind that he’s fooled by his selfish manipulative wife and justice is shown to be a travesty, it signals the Devil is just around the corner. The claustrophobic grey settings where freedom is confining might also be a projection of Fassbinder as the artist dealing with post-Hitler Germany.

REVIEWED ON 12/19/2005 GRADE: B+

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”