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Mother Kusters Goes to Heaven
Mother Kusters Goes to Heaven
Actors: Peter Bollag, Karlheinz Böhm, Margit Carstensen, Ingrid Caven, Peter Chatel
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama
NR     2003     1hr 48min

When Hermann Kusters goes berserk at his factory and murders his manager before killing himself, a media blitz descends upon his middle-aged wife (Brigitte Mira) and her adult children. Her daughter attempts to use the ...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Peter Bollag, Karlheinz Böhm, Margit Carstensen, Ingrid Caven, Peter Chatel
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama
Studio: Fox Lorber
Format: DVD - Color,Full Screen - Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 05/20/2003
Theatrical Release Date: 04/08/2003
Release Year: 2003
Run Time: 1hr 48min
Screens: Color,Full Screen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 0
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: German
Subtitles: English

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Movie Reviews

Compassionate study of a woman, and a scathing social satire
J. Clark | metro New York City | 08/22/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Like all of Fassbinder's best films, Mother Kusters Goes to Heaven (1975) is many things at once. It is simultaneously a deeply compassionate portrait of a working-class woman and a scathing satire of her exploitation by the media and political factions, as she tries to clear the name of her dead husband, branded "the factory murderer." It is emotionally rich but intellectually dense, filled with arguments and counter-arguments galore; psychologically astute yet highly stylized and visually lush. It is a comedy, a drama, and much more. It is also an excellent example of how Fassbinder uses image and sound, often in subtle ways, to develop - and play with - his themes. A unique feature is that he wrote and shot two strikingly different endings (both are included on the excellent DVD), one for Europe, and a more hopeful one for the U.S. They provide two very different ways in which the title character "goes to heaven."The character of Mother Kusters is remarkable for several reasons. Although Fassbinder often has a tendency to allegorize his characters (albeit in fascinating ways), even as he does here, Emma Kusters (Brigitte Mira) is both a potent symbol of The Mother and, simultaneously, a flesh and blood woman. When so many of his characters, not to mention people in the real world, are destroyed by their rigidity, her willingness to explore new ideas - to incorporate an increasingly complex view of the social world, her family, and even herself - seems a genuine form of optimism. The film's literary roots also connect with Fassbinder's aesthetic and political aims. Although he attributed its inspiration to an obscure story, the key cultural "mother" is Gorky's in his 1906 novel, Mother (an indomitable Russian peasant woman, after having her political consciousness raised through a family tragedy, joins the Russian revolution). It was also dramatized by Brecht, whose theories of how to engage the audience's mind as well as emotions were a crucial early influence on Fassbinder. But sure to raise the hackles of his Leftist predecessors, Fassbinder takes some hilarious jabs at Communists and anarchists, not to mention right-wing journalists. With so much humor, many people consider this an outright comedy.But Fassbinder also raises many serious, and still-relevant, social issues - about the nature of mass media and politics - even as he returns to one of his perennial themes, exploitation. And although he satirizes most of the characters, except Mother Kusters, he never dehumanizes them. Take the photographer/reporter Niemeyer (Gottfried John). He is tall, lanky, almost vulture-like, yet he comes across as sincere and likeable, even as he wheedles the most intimate details out of Emma Kusters - and even beds her crudely self-promoting daughter Corinna (Ingrid Caven). It would be easy to reduce Niemeyer, for cheap laughs, to a one-dimensional stereotype. But Fassbinder gives him considerable emotional, even moral, depth. And he is defended by Mother Kusters herself: "It's his job to create sensations. Everybody has to make a living." Fassbinder is merciless, and witty, at condemning the institution; but he ekes out some sympathy for the employees.Fassbinder uses visual design to make his themes still more complex and involving. He begins not with an expected establishing shot, to show us where we are, but by holding on a closeup of Mother Kusters' hands, as she screws a round brown part into a small white plastic box, one after another after another. Eventually he reveals that she is working not in a factory but at her kitchen table, as she laments, "I'm getting slower." The routine is efficient, even graceful, yet dehumanizing. Not only does this establish her socioeconomic status and long-suffering character, it indicates the same type of repetitive work which drove (the never-seen) Mr. Kusters to murder and suicide. Throughout the film, Fassbinder also uses color in fascinating ways, contrasting the unfulfilled lives of the Kusters with bright primaries - blues, yellows, and especially reds. This is simultaneously satirical, poignant, and even beautiful. He also makes achieves visual coherence and thematic resonance through the use of shape. In contrast to the often comic tone, the dominant visual motif is oppressive, of narrow openings (in doorways, halls, corridors) between stark walls, often shot from twisted angles and in shadow.Although I don't want to give away either of the surprising endings, I believe both are effective. Each gives characters and themes closure, albeit in dramatically - or comically - different ways, even as they bring to mind Mother Kuster's bittersweet key line: "As my [husband] used to say, you have to see the good in all people." Fassbinder understands that simple, but difficult, maxim too, as he explores the emotional complexity of characters and their lives, in a film without any villains, but with one extraordinary woman at its heart."
Excuse me, can I exploit your personal tragedy?
Carl West | Falls Church, VA United States | 04/12/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)

"A bitingly clever film from Fassbinder. It apparently offended a lot of Germans when it was initially released, but is quite interesting to watch now as a document of Germany in the `70s. No one is the "good guy" here - the newspapers, the Communists, and the anarchists all want to use Mrs. Kuster's tragic story to their own benefit. Even the laughably ignorant Mother Kusters fails to become a sympathetic character. The woman just doesn't have a clue.As in all Fassbinder films, the regular actresses steal the show. Ingrid Caven is lovely as the aloof nightclub singer. Irm Hermann isn't quite as strong as she is in `Bitter Tears of P.V.K.' or `Merchant of Four Seasons,' but she makes an impression all the same. Margit Cartensen and Karl Heinz Bohm are very picturesque as the "armchair Communist" couple - all ideals but probably not willing to make any real sacrifices.Probably Fassbinder's most political film, and a very important piece of his oeuvre."
Fassbinder's critical view of media exploitation.
G. Merritt | Boulder, CO | 03/21/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

""No other director understands the strength of mediocre minds as does Fassbinder"--Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader.

There is a profoundly sad quality to this provocative film. Set in Frankfurt and based on Heinrich Zille's short story, "Mutter Krausens Fahrt Ins Glück," Fassbinder's 1975 film, Mother Küsters' Trip to Heaven (Mutter Küsters' Fahrt zum Himmel), tells the story of Emma Küsters (Brigitte Mira, known for her role in Ali - Fear Eats the Soul), a dowdy hausfrau, whose husband Hermann (a tire-factory employee) goes berserk one day on the job, killing his foreman, and then killing himself. (It is a familiar story that could just as easily be found in today's headlines.) While Mother Küsters grieves the loss of her husband, the media sensationalizes the incident, characterizing her husband as "The Factory Murderer," an alchoholic child-beating, wife-beating, ill-tempered lunatic. Emma's daughter, Corinna Coren (Ingrid Caven), a cabaret singer, schemes to use the media hype to advance her own career. Emma Küsters seeks solace from two members of the German Communist Party (DKP), who attempt to put their own political spin on the tragedy by portraying Emma's husband as a victim of capitalism. None of this rings true for Mother Küsters, who becomes frustrated with the public hysteria surrounding her husband's irrational act and meaningless death, prompting her to join a small group of anarchists in a sit-down strike at one of the newspapers that sparked the hysteria. Fassbinder filmed two very different endings to Mother Küsters. In the first, Emma Küsters is killed by the police when anarchists attempt to take control of the newspaper. (Based upon the film's title, this was arguably Fassbinder's preferred ending.) In an alternate ending ("the American version"), the anarchists become bored with their cause, while Küsters begins a romantic relationship with a newspaper worker. In the wake of recent shootings at schools, churches, and malls, and the resulting public hysteria surrounding such unfortunate events, Fassbinder's controversial film has become even more relevant since it was released nearly 25 years ago. (The film was considered so controversial upon its release that it was banned from the Berlin Film Festival. Arguably, it is even more controversial today.) While the film is primarily about alienation, exploitation, and the corruption of society, Mother Küsters (along with his Why Does Herr R. Run Amok?) makes it clear that Fassbinder had the ability to see through the power of the media to manipulate the minds of our time into public hysteria surrounding such meaningless incidents. This film is the work of a brilliantly prophetic film genius.

G. Merritt"