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Germany 1972
Directed by
Rainer Werner Fassbinder
124 minutes
Rated MA

4 stars

The Bitter Tears Of Petra Von Kant

Fassbinder’s filming of his own play is a highly stylized effort and the combination of over-wrought emotions and mannered staging will thrill some but probably alienate as many, something that would in no way disappoint the director. Petra von Kant (Margit Carstensen), is an arrogant successful fashion designer who treats her PA, Marlene (Irm Hermann), with near sadistic hauteur but gets her come-uppance when she falls deeply in love with a young woman Karin (Hanna Schygulla). Fassbinder’s script probes the realities of love with rare honesty whilst his hieratic staging using a single split-level set is strikingly effective, making this an outstanding example of a stage-to-film adaptation (in the original play Marlene stays with Petra).

In its day the film raised a good deal of controversy for not only depicting lesbian love, but doing so in such a seemingly negative way. But near-operatic emotionalism and camp contrivance (represented most insistently here by Petra’s wigs which change with each scene) is the director’s stock in trade and he achieved here a much finer balance than he did three years later with Fox And His Friends which dealt with a comparable set-up but in a gay contect. The core of the film, however, the relationship between love and desire, transcends sexual preferences and given that such things are less of an issue these days, the strength of Fassbinder’s original text is only more evident. Margit Carstensen in the title role does a remarkable job whilst Hanna Schygulla, with whom Fassbinder made 20 films is, as ever, a strong presence and Irm Herrman who as Marlene never utters a word, is no less effective.

FYI: The huge blown-up painting that serves as a backdrop for much of the film is Nicolas Poussin's "Midas and Bacchus" (cropped on the right to stop at the goat's hindquarters)

In the early stages of the film Petra dictates to Marlene a letter to "Joseph Mankiewicz". Joseph Mankiewicz was, the writer/director of All About Eve (1950), in which Bette Davis plays an aging film star whose career is appropriated by an ambitious young woman. (Fassbinder other “re-inventions” were Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974) based on Douglas Sirk's All That Heaven Allows (1955) and Lola (1982) which was based on von Sternberg's The Blue Angel (1930)

DVD Extras: Audio commentary by Dr. Diane Charlson, Lecturer in Cinema Studies at RMIT University; Mise en Scene as Power Struggle, an essay by Jonathan Rosenblum.

Available from Madman as part of a 3 disc release Fassbinder On Sex, that also includes Fox And His Friends and In A Year With 13 Moons.

Available from: Madman




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