The first feature by Tom Tykwer was this stunningly lensed 1993
exercise in surreal oppression. Itís quite grim, but also absorbing,
thought-provoking and deserving of wider exposure.
Although DEADLY MARIA (DIE TODLICHE MARIA) received a
fair amount of film festival exposure during the early nineties, itís
largely vanished from circulation. Thus far the filmís only appearances
on home video were via an out-of-print German VHS and a Japanese DVD.
It is, however, one of Tom Tykwerís finest films,
indeed perhaps the finest, playing intriguingly on quite a few
motifs heís explored in subsequent projects like RUN LOLA RUN (1998),
THE PRINCESS AND THE WARRIOR (2000) and HEAVEN (2002). Of course DEADLY
MARIA is also Tykwerís darkest film, which appears to have turned off
many American critics and film buffs.
The mousy Maria is living a Hellish existence in a
vast, nightmarish townhouse lorded over by her infirm father and
inattentive husband. When not tending to the menís needs Maria writes
letters to herself and hides money inside a phallic statue (in
anticipation of an escape from her unacceptable reality). She becomes
drawn to Dieter, an eccentric man living in the downstairs apartment
across the street; the two strike up a tentative romance, but itís
strictly a case of too little-too late, as Mariaís ultimate path is a
grim and violent one.
It takes a look back over Mariaís life--as a child she
was forced into a subservient role, and later an arranged marriage to
her fatherís best friend--to fully bring her demons to light. A creepy
dream follows involving Maria giving birth to a slimy something that
evolves into a deadlier and more assertive Maria.
This new Maria wastes no time killing off her husband,
and in suitably gruesome fashion. This leaves her a delusional basket
case. Her father is clearly the next victim in line for Deadly Maria,
but what about Dieter? Will he and Maria live happily ever after or is
he to become another of her victims?
DEADLY MARIA, with its assured and impressive
craftsmanship, must be counted as among the most impressive filmmaking
debuts of the nineties. Tom Tykwer, working with the skilled
cinematographer Frank Griebe (who shot all Tykwerís subsequent films),
incorporates all manner of stylistic quirks--innumerable dissolves and
superimpositions, excessively bright colors, slow motion, overlapping
dialogue, inanimate object POV shots, 360 degree pans,
dream sequences--but the film never feels the least bit chaotic or
disjointed. It has a smooth, confident flow, imparting a real sense of
mounting desperation engendered by its all-too convincing depiction of
Mariaís unquiet mind. Tykwer also proves himself a skilled director of
actors, with Nina Petri (who also appeared in RUN LOLA RUN) delivering a
couldnít-be-better performance in the title role.
The final scene, featuring a semi-impressionistic
flight of fancy (a Tykwer trademark), works, but isnít all it could be.
Apparently Tykwer had a far more extravagant ending in mind but was
stymied by lack of funds. Thatís a shame. Itís also a shame that DEADLY
MARIA has become so obscure, because if ever a film was in dire need of
a rediscovery itís this one.
DEALDY MARIA (DIE TODLICHE MARIA)
Director: Tom Tykwer
Producers: Stefan Arndt, Tom Tykwer
Screenplay: Tom Tykwer
Cinematography: Frank Griebe
Editing: Katja Dringenberg
Cast: Nina Petri, Katja Studt, Juliane Heinemann, Josef Bierbichler,
Peter Franke, Jean Maeser, Joachim Krol, Rolf Peter Kahl, Renate Usko,
Georg Winterfeld, Tom Spiess, Andreas Petri, Nada Daniels