Bertolt Brecht's chronicle from the Thirty Year's War concerns the camp follower Anna Fierling, known as "Mother Courage," who travels backwards and forwards across Europe with her sutler's waggon. She does business on both sides of the lines, selling goods without distinction to the Protestants and Catholics. She can always be found where business is to be done: "A trader does not have to name his religion, only his price."
Although she lives and profits from war, she wants to keep herself and her children out of it all; but her efforts are fruitless for war robs her of all her children. Schweizerkas is shot because of his honesty; he refuses to hand over to the enemy the regimental funds that have been entrusted to him. During a short period of peace Eilif is hung for one of the deeds which brought him rewards and fame during the war. Her daughter, Dumb Kattrin, is shot by the mercenaries when she saves the city of Halle.
But Mother Courage learns nothing from all this. Left all alone, she hitches herself to her empty waggon at the age of eighty, hoping to do a little more business.
The main interest of this epic tale of war profiteers is as a record of the work of Bertolt Brecht, and as such it is essentially theatrical. The strident, cutting songs of Brecht and Paul Dessau effectively underline the action but the main cinematic interest lies in the use of the split screen and the brilliant acting of Helene Weigel as the crafty Mother Courage.
A Locarno Film Festival Selection.