Mother Küsters Goes to Heaven (1975)

In a way this was an amusing follow-up to the Pialat film, cos it looks at a similar situation, just from a totally different angle… where Gueule looks at the collapse of a family while the mother is slowly dying, Fassbinder looks instead at the family collapsing after the father’s shocking murder/suicide, with the mother having to pick up the pieces as her kids pretty much desert her (and, unlike in the Pialat film, the daughter-in-law here is probably the ghastliest figure in the whole bunch). This being Fassbinder, of course, the theme of exploitation runs through the film; daughter Corrina perhaps uses the tragedy most grotesquely to prop up her mediocre singing career, but it’s Mutter Küsters who finds herself on the receiving end, variously from the media who’ve got product to sell, from a couple of genial (if suspiciously well-off) communists who’ve got power to achieve, and ultimately a small band of anarchists who’ll take her late husband’s name in vain to end the whole thing as tragically as it began. All of this is spun out at an aggravatingly slow pace, and it’s largely the title role performance by Brigitte Mira that kept it going for me; she’s terrific at communicating both her gradual awakening and her ongoing bewilderment as the character realises “the way things are” isn’t necessarily how things must be but gets in the wrong fights to create change nonetheless. And then there’s the endings, both of them… Fassbinder created a mildly odd happy ending for the US market but retained an unhappy one elsewhere, but the Fassbinder Foundation’s restoration includes both in the same print. So we see the “original”, which ends on a close-up of Mutter Küsters with a text description of what happened next—a rather fascinating not-quite ending—then an explanatory caption and the American ending which just seemed… wrong. It almost felt like one of those old-style (?) Hollywood studio-mandated compromises, but since Fassbinder seems to have done it deliberately it has a slight whiff of The Last Laugh to it, particularly when the two endings are juxtaposed like that.

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