THE MARRIAGE OF MARIA BRAUN -- At the Dupont Circle.

The first thing to be noted about "The Marriage of Maria Braun" is that it's not to be confused with the nuptials of Eva Braun and Hitler. In the opening, it's hard to tell. Germany is devastated as Maria and her patriotic lover, wearing wedding finery but flattened on the sidewalk by bombs, take their vows. One would expect it to be a last romantic gesture before defeat.

But Germany, as it turned out, was not finished, and Maria Braun's career is the story of her economic rise, and presumably her country's, against all logical expectations after the devastation.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder's film follows an indomitable spirit, played by the engagingly forward Hanna Schygulla, from wartime to the boom of postwar Germany. Maria, a charming compound of pragmatism and romanticism, can turn a quick pickup into a respectable career, and thinks nothing of bragging about both her professional and her sexual arrangements to a husband in jail for a crime she committed. And meanwhile, she seems to bear aloft a kind of purity, consisting of her belief that everything she does is out of unselfish devotion to that husband, whom she hardly knows.

The symbolic parallels cannot be too closely examined. Does the black GI she loves and then kills on impulse represent American aid? Oh, maybe. Maybe not. It's not so much that Maria represents Germany as that Germany's rise makes Maria's plausible -- and comic. It's like seeing a pratfall run backwards.