Combustible Celluloid
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With: Margit Carstensen, Karlheinz Böhm, Barbara Valentin, Peter Chatel
Written by: Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Cornell Woolrich
Directed by: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: German with English subtitles
Running Time: 116
Date: 05/28/1974

Martha (1973)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Women's Glib

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This made-for-TV movie boasts some glorious, opulent cinematography by Michael Ballhaus, highlighting the fact that it was one of director Rainer Werner Fassbinder's rare excursions into the upper class. But the ornate sets and colorful camerawork only belie the disturbed nature of this truly sick film. Margit Carstensen (The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant) stars as the title character, a skinny, skeletal woman who is vacationing in Rome with her father when he suddenly dies of a heart attack. Not long after she marries a sadistic engineer Helmut (Karlheinz Bohm, from Peeping Tom) who continuously strips her of her rights and her free will. He makes her ride roller coasters with him, makes her quit her job, makes her read a boring book on engineering, and eventually rips out the phones and makes her stay home all the time. Arguably the worst scene comes after Helmut has allowed his new bride to fall asleep in the sun. She lies on the bed, burned to a bright pink and he throws himself on top of her, savagely making love to her. It's an insidious story, and inside it somewhere is a woman who probably wants to be stripped down to a point where she no longer has the burden of deciding anything -- or even living -- for herself. This is pretty rough going, but fortunately the DVD, from the great Fantoma Films, includes an excellent 60-minute documentary about Fassbinder and his tenuous connections to Hollywood. Critic Jonathan Rosenbaum tries to defend the film in the liner notes.

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