- The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant review by CH
Ecology concerns apart, is there any more disagreeable a form of travel than by airplane? The thought comes to mind when when watching again Fassbinder's The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972). This takes place upon the ground, in the large bedroom of a Bremen flat, one of its walls adorned by a huge, bare-fleshed classical mural. Fassbinder, perhaps inspired by the claustrophobia of an aircraft cabin, wrote this play between one side of the Atlantic and the other, and soon turned it into a film.
This makes Coward's writing Private Lives one weekend in a Far-East hotel appear tardy. Both men were prolific, and some of their work can be easily overlooked. How well is this film known five decades on? The two-hour traffic of its stage can bring to mind the threesome which Coward depicted in Design for Living.
The eponymous rôle is taken by Margit Cartensen. Much given to lolling upon her big brass bed, this fashion designer continually issues instructions to her forever-silent assistant Marlene (Irm Hermann), which makes one speculate about everything which underlies their relationship in these curiously-appointed premises (Fassbinder and his time make such tremendous use of colour and camera angles that it never stales into a filmed play).
Before long, a puzzling situation is complicated. There appears on the scene Hanna Schygulla as Karin, who - as is Petra - proves to be separated from a man. They fall for each other, or so it seems. One of the film's well-nigh invisible act-breaks shows that they have remained together some while, presumably watched all that time by the mute Marlene.
It is another taunting relationship, one which provokes Karin to say that – true or not - her overnight absence was owing to the arrival elsewhere of a well-hung black man. Talk, throughout, is not so much dialogue as the declamations of a power struggle, all of which is inflamed by the arrival of Petra's equally vociferous daughter and mother.
Everybody is wary of one another, trust is elusive as the room appears to darken, while The Walker Brothers and The Platters rise on the soundtrack. One can well imagine that Scott Walker would have relished the angst of all this if he saw it (and perhaps he did so). What remains of us is hate.
To watch this on a cinema screen is to experience that Bremen room as a life-size reflection of the auditorium; oddly enough, at home that effect is lost upon a flatscreen, but the drama is more than sufficient to make one crave to fill one's gaps in viewings of Fassbinder's other work (Hitchcock-fashion, he appears here in a newspaper photograph passed between this otherwise all-female cast).
For those who have not seen it, make time for the dozen hours of his version of Doblin's Berlin Alexanderplatz.
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