For Reel

The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972)
September 16, 2015, 9:20 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
4.5 Stars
The Bitter Tears of Petra Von KantIn one of the first scenes of The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, the tragic woman of the title (Margit Carstensen) begins writing a letter to a man by the name of Joseph Mankiewicz, a clear demonstration of director Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s affection for the Hollywood melodrama and, more specifically, films about women. As with All About Eve, the film concerns a relationship between a pair of women that gradually reveals itself to be a rivalry of sorts, with the initially empowered von Kant regressing into utter codependency and powerlessness by the end. Fassbinder’s obsession with victimhood and the power struggles of a relationship is wrought with a certain timelessness, the implication being that there is cyclical nature to romantic failures. In the final of the film’s four sections (which are divided by fade outs), a bed is mysteriously absent from a room in the apartment. Without the bed–a setting with represents both conception and death (and all the romantic trysts in between)–von Kant is cast away into a sort of loveless purgatory. Furthermore, the sudden change of set design echoes the fluid relationship that the camera has with the space. Filmed by Michael Ballhaus in a single loft, there is no attempt to orient the audience within the location–it becomes increasingly confusing to understand how one room connects to the other as the striking angles seem to only distort the world further as they accumulate. It’s an expressionistic touch that counteracts the inherent claustrophobia of the closed setting. Although the apartment is undoubtedly a hermetic environment, it also feels cavernous, swallowing the characters whole.

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