The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1972)
This film has an all-female cast and is set in the home of the protagonist, Petra von Kant (Margit Carstensen). It follows the changing dynamics in her relationships with the other women.
Written and directed by the Enfant terrible of the German New Wave Rainer Werner Fassbinder, The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant or in original German Die bitteren tranen der Petra von Kant, is a play that legend tells that Fassbinder wrote entirely in a plane to the USA. Knowing that Fassbinder was a workaholic and, in fact, a very intense person and one of the too many artists that died too young because he lived too fast, the whole story of this film seems a little sketchy and fells easily into the over dramatic side of plays. It also reminded me how much I loathe plays shot for the big screen without much adaptation. Shot in one room or studio, the claustrophobic feeling of this tearing love story composed only of women from different ages, exposes Fassbinder’s own failing love story. I see him as Petra who fell in love with the young and beautiful Karin (Hanna Schygulla) and that she hurts intentionally her assistant Marlene (Irm Hermann) who gets her kick in masochism.
This is the kind of film that gets very heavy and tiring for its viewer since we are confronted with constant heavy and over dramatic emotions by Von Kant. The story never seems to get into track and as much as I think the mise en scène is quite inventive and interesting for this huis clos it is also very restrictive.
The only other setting of this story is the opening credits static shot of cats in a staircase that illustrate how these bourgeois women can make so much noise and move so much air in their golden cage drinking gin and lying in bed all day.
Overall, The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant stands as a definitive work from Fassbinder for his admirers. Having only watched Ali : Fear Eats the Soul, it is difficult to rank it or to actually compare it in his entire filmography. However, Ali was a hit for me and I enjoyed every minute of it while I had a hard time watching Petra because of its heavy story and over the top acting. It is nonetheless a film filled with great performances and it must be interesting to study the psychology of each characters because they represent a lot of its facets. Quite interesting but far from being the greatest Fassbinder.