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.



The Merchant of Four Seasons (1971)
August 10, 2015, 7:26 pm
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Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
4 Stars
The Merchant of Four SeasonsThe Merchant of Four Seasons begins with a brief prologue in which a mother tells her returning legionnaire son that, “The good die young, and people like you return.” It is seemingly Hans’ (Hans Hirschmüller) goal through the rest of the picture to actualize his mother’s scornful fantasy, falling deeper into despair and eventually drinking himself to death in a ritualistic fashion. One of the great things about the picture is that, although Hans is certainly an oppressed victim in his society–by his awful family, by his deceitful wife (Irm Hermann), and by the concerns of capital–he also wears the role of oppressor in several scenes, with his self-hatred manifesting in a violent beating of his wife. Director Rainer Werner Fassbinder reveled in having characters that weren’t easily categorizable, a distinction that very much removes him from his muse Douglas Sirk. The moral complexity of his characters seems attached to his filmic techniques–the long takes, the artificiality in the way his actors are often blocked. They both serve as challenges to an audience’s typical engagement with a melodrama. As much as Fassbinder involves one with a fairly conventional narrative structure and a sympathetic character at its core, he seems just as much bent on distancing audiences by subverting their expectations. In the last scene, Hans’ wife begins a new life with his old comrade (Klaus Löwitsch), but it is not a scene depicted as the fulfillment of a repressed passion, but rather as a business agreement. The icy, detached playing of this fairly typical melodramatic scenario harmonizes Fassbinder’s concern with both Sirkian melodrama and his own brand of hyperrealism.