1938. Willie (Hanna Schygulla) and Robert (Giancarlo Giannini) are in love: She, a minor German singer who appears in a Zurich nightclub and waits for her big breakthrough. He, son of a rich Jewish family. His father (Mel Ferrer) is the head of an organization that helps Jews flee from Nazi Germany. While he is against Robert’s relationship with a German, as he feels that this could jeopardize the work of his organization, he permits Willie to accompany Robert on a secret mission to Germany. Upon their return to Switzerland the lovers find out that Robert’s father played a cruel trick on them: Willie is not allowed back into the country. They are forced to part. She remains in Germany and becomes famous. First she appears with “Lili Marleen” in Munich’s “Alter Simpl.” Then Henkel (Karl-Heinz von Hassel), an influential Nazi, supports Willie and has the song recorded. When Belgrade’s German Military Radio Station plays the tune, Willie suddenly becomes a big German Nazi star who is celebrated and admired even by the Führer himself. Robert visits Willie in Berlin using an assumed name. However, their meeting is monitored by the Gestapo. Robert is arrested while the clueless Willie goes on tour to the Eastern Front. She agrees to carry information about extermination camps with her that are supposed to be handed to the Zurich organization so that Robert’s father can use the evidence to free his son. Willie’s career is ruined when her plans surface. Out of desperation and fear of the Nazis, she tries to commit suicide. Robert helps her by getting the British Military Station in Calais to broadcast her arrest and report her subsequent assassination. Willie’s incredible popularity forces the Nazis to deny the news. Willie is forced back onto the stage once more. When the war is over, she sees Robert again, and she must acknowledge that their former private happiness is in shambles. —Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation
Rainer Werner Fassbinder (May 31, 1945 – June 10, 1982) was born into a cultured bourgeois family in the small Bavarian spa town Bad Wörishofen. Raised by his mother as an only child, the boy had only sporadic contact with his father, a doctor, after the divorce of his parents when he was five. Educated at a Rudolf Steiner elementary school and subsequently in Munich and Augsburg, the city of Bert Brecht, he left school before passing any final examinations. A cinema addict (“five times a week, often three films a day”) from a very early age, not least because his mother needed peace and quiet for her work as a translator, “the cinema was the family life I never had at home.”
Fassbinder made his first short films at the age of twenty, persuading a male lover to finance them in exchange for leading roles. He also applied for a place at the Berlin Film School (dffb), but was refused. He acted in both his early films: DER STADTSTREICHER (The City Tramp), which also featured Irm… read more
Fassbinder's final film with Hanna Schygulla tackles the Second World War from a unique and interesting perspective, namely via the leading lady's interpretation of the famous song that will be forever associated with Marlene Dietrich. Schygulla gives an energetic performance as the cabaret singer whose career parallels the rise and fall of Nazism. Far from being one of Fassbinder's best, I still liked it immensely..