Both Karlheinz Böhm and Margit Carstensen appear in the first major ensemble scene of Mother Kusters Goes to Heaven, demonstrating the fact that where you find the press, you’ll also find political parties. Simultaneously addressed, is the fact that where you find personal disaster among the public, the politicos are often there too.

 

Both Bohm and Carstensen are at their most good looking in this film, apt for two of Fassbinder’s greatest all time creations – the Bourgeois Marxists. This seductive couple share a smile that is serpentine, robotic and idiotic, and the most entertaining thing about them in their first scene is that they appear, survey, smile and leave without saying anything at all. Unlike the intrusive press, these guys from the Bourgeois Communist Party are going to get you when you’re weaker still; and they’re going to draw you in on the pretext that they will help you pick up the pieces.

It is these two Marxists who, for prurient and selfish reasons of their own, whip up the events regarding Herr Kusters into something approaching a public sensation, or cause. We actually see it happening; whereas the widow wishes only to forget the horrible circumstance of her husband’s death, or at least live in peace, the stirring begins among the politicised middle classes, and before long there will be a pathetic storm of their brewing. They are not detectives, they are not benefactors, they do not care about Frau Kusters, and yet they pretend to all of the above. Of the two Bourgeois Communists, Bohm is the more waistcoat wearing, hands in the suit pockets type, strolling up and down pronouncing; the sort to suddenly appear behind you like a schoolteacher and ask you a difficult question.

The Communists as it turns out are worse than the press, as they deliberately distort Herr Kusters story as they speak to the widow. With smiles and firm looks they change and keep changing aspects of the story.

Caption ‘But my Hermann was never a Communist’

Of the two Communists, it’s Bohm who knows that the widow Kusters is vulnerable due to her bereavement. He also knows this from his knowledge of how uncaring working class families are. But he is right, and Frau Kusters not only comes back but given the harsh treatment she’s had from the mainstream press, Bohm has written an item of hagiography, and Kusters, now genuinely angry, falls straight into his clutches, and enters revolutionary WDR.

When Frau Kusters visits with the Bourgeois Communists, she often complains of loneliness, but when we see the childless Communists in their fine house, we know straight away that they are much more lonely with their music, books and alcohol. In terms of Kuster’s complaints, the Communists have seen it all before – because whether it’s true or not, they believe everything in Kuster’s case to be typical of the working class in general – which class, they certainly despise.

After a political meeting, the Bourgeois Communists walk Mother Kusters home, explaining what anarchists are; but following the meeting Mother Kusters quickly realises that these are fireside communists. We can’t work miracles, they argue. You must act! she asks them. Then they say that they are very busy people. Almost high on revolutionary fervour Kusters despairs of them — and this is another great Fassbinder joke about the revolutionary WDR. Essentially, Fassbinder rips the movement apart by revealing his joke; desperately on us; an old lady is more worthy of revolutionary West Germany than any of its so-called activists. When it comes to this subject, Fassbinder always explains it in comedy. It’s the natural tactic of a genius.