Friday, September 20, 2013
The Five Obstructions Blog-a-Thon #4: The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant
For the fourth part of Nostra’s Five Obstructions Blog-a-Thon, here is what I’m asked to do:
Well, I used to write reviews that were longer than 1250 words and sometimes even more than 2000 words but that was a long time ago. I’ve become much more minimalist in my approach as it’s part of this evolution for me as a writer. I thought it was going to be easy but there was that realization that I haven’t done that in some time. So I decided to retrieve an old review of mine that I wrote during my time at Epinions.com on 6/5/05 of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1972 film The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant but in a newly re-fashioned and re-edited form that is more to my liking as this new version features a total of 1398 words:
Written and directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Die Bitteren Tranen der Petra von Kant (The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant) is the story about a fashion designer who falls for a young model as the relationship would become tumultuous as her mute assistant watches from afar. The film is an exploration into the life of a woman who has a lot of disdain towards men while treating her loyal assistant cruelly in order to get what she wants only to deal with reality as the titular character is played by Margit Carstensen. Also starring Hanna Schygulla, Katrin Schaake, Eva Mattes, Gisela Fackeldey, and Irm Hermann. Die Bitteren Tranent der Petra von Kant is a ravishing yet harrowing film from Rainer Werner Fassbinder.
The film explores the life of fashion designer Petra von Kant as she has a mute assistant named Marlene (Irm Hermann) who helps her finish sketches and other duties for Petra. While Marlene seems to have feelings for Petra, Petra often treats her with disdain as she also deals with family issues as her mother Valerie (Gisela Fackeldey) needs money for a trip to Miami while Petra’s daughter Gabriele (Eva Mattes) is in boarding school. Even as her cousin Sidonie (Katrin Schaake) makes an unexpected arrival as she’s recovering from the end of her second marriage where Petra talks about her contempt towards men. Also with Sidonie is a young model named Karin (Hanna Schygulla) whom Petra is infatuated with as she invites Karin for a night at her cramped yet lavish apartment. Petra hopes to help Karin with her thriving modeling career as the two talk about their love lives as Karin is still married to a man working in Sydney.
Just as the relationship seems to go well, it eventually becomes troublesome as Karin starts to feel smothered by Petra who spends her time trying wigs and costumes. Yet, Marlene does a lot of the work where it only frustrates Petra who keeps lashing out at Marlene for everything as Petra cancels a flight to Madrid that Karin was supposed to be in. Karin’s activities outside Petra’s home would cause more tension until a call from Karin’s husband from Zurich would end the relationship as Petra becomes anguished. Even as her 35th birthday approaches as her family arrives to celebrate only for the party to go wrong when Sidonie reveals some news about Karin that forces Petra to realize who are her true friends and such.
While the story is a bit hard to follow with its very intricate yet talkative dialogue. Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s theatrical background brings the claustrophobic yet theatrical approach to his film since it revolves entirely with an apartment filled with lavish things and naked mannequins that plays off as some kind of metaphor. The strength of the story is in both Fassbinder's taciturn approach to writing and directing. In the writing, he crafts a five-act structure where he explores the manic obsession of Petra von Kant along with her surroundings like her gossip-filled cousin, her idealistic daughter, her conservative rich mother, and Marlene. Even in its look, Fassbinder is also making fun of the lavish, luxurious look of Douglas Sirk’s films as well as commenting on social classes though its commentary and dark humor is layered underneath the dramatic tone of the film.
When Karin arrives, she starts off as this nice, naive woman living in pain only to turn into someone who studies Petra and use her youth against Petra. The real eye that serves as our third-person perspective from Fassbinder's view is Marlene where in the opening credits, he dedicates the film to the caricature of Marlene. The film's lesbian overtones and subtle sadomasochistic references only to show the hatred and self-absorbed world of Petra. It's really a character study piece on a woman trying to live in a world with love and a lifestyle that would later turn on her as she lashes out on those who care about her.
The directing approach of Fassbinder is very succinct since he is trying to get into the characters and figure out their behaviors and motivations. Yet, there are several scenes where he does long takes where he would at one minute, focus on Sidonie and then to Petra, and then zoom his way into Marlene who watches and listens everything without uttering a single word. There, Fassbinder uses both his expertise in theater and films to craft a vision that is unpredictable with metaphoric references around Petra’s chaotic world as she falls apart right till the end. Even the ending has something that is realistic to pinpoint as Petra wonders how everything has fallen apart for her and who are really there for her while realizing how she fails them.
Helping Fassbinder is his unique yet stark vision is longtime cinematographer Michael Ballhaus who uses a lot of colors and lighting to convey scenes that are shot in the day while using very little in the darker scenes where it's nighttime. The production design work of Kurt Raab is well presented from its shaggy carpeting and lavish look along with the mannequins and the painting in Petra's bedroom that serves as a metaphor. The editing of Thea Eymesz is brilliant for its methodical approach to editing to play out the drama as it unfolds as well as keeping up with the film‘s very talkative dialogue.
Maja Lemcke’s costume design helps play out the film’s visual style with its costumes to display the world that Petra lives where it is lavish but also detached from reality. The sound work of Gunther Kortwich is superb for the intimacy that is played in the apartment including all of the emotions that come out from Petra and the sound of objects being touched and such. Fassbinder also shines in his choice of music with wonderful tracks from the Walker Brothers, Guiseppe Verdi, and a couple of cuts from the Platters in Smoke Gets In Your Eyes and The Great Pretender.
While the film fills only six actresses, Fassbinder's ability to choose actresses shows more of his brilliance in casting. Eva Mattes is wonderful in the role of Petra's young, idealistic daughter who goes into shock in seeing her mother fall apart while Gisela Fackeldey is also great in the role of Petra's stern, posh mother who despite her conservative views, supports her. Karin Schaake is also great in the role of Petra's cousin Sidonie with her understated performance in the role of a gossip-monger whose marriage is falling apart as she seeks advice from her cousin. Fassbinder regular Hanna Schygulla gives a mesmerizing, brutal performance as young and spoiled Karin with her graceful beauty and her complex turn from a naive model to an ungrateful woman who boils the pot around Petra.
The film's best supporting performance aside from Schygulla is another Fassbinder regular in Irm Hermann as Marlene. Her performance represents not just Fassbinder but the eyes and ears of the audience. Never uttering a word, we see Hermann convey a loyalty and heartbreak as she continues to stand on her own, even as Petra verbally abuses her. Even in the film's final moments, we see Hermann given something but again, she doesn't speak and let her actions do the talking while throughout the entire film, she wears the same black clothes throughout in an amazing performance.
Finally, there's Margit Carstensen in the title role of Petra von Kant. Carstensen brings a troubling yet powerful performance as the embittered Petra with her commanding approach early on and sly seduction in the film's first half. By the second half, Carstensen shows more in her powerful, dramatic range with a bit of sympathy as she deals with heartbreak even though her actions and words make her more un-likeable. This is really one of the best yet brutal performances to ever grace the European cinema of the 1970s.
Die Bitteren Tranent der Petra von Kant is a dark yet mesmerizing film from Rainer Werner Fassbinder thanks to its amazing ensemble cast led by Margit Carstensen, Irm Hermann, and Hanna Schygulla. The film is definitely one of Fassbinder’s most compelling dramas in the way it explores relationship as well as the life of a woman who faces the reality of her empty and demanding lifestyle. In the end, Die Bitteren Tranent der Petra von Kant is a majestic film from Rainer Werner Fassbinder.
Rainer Werner Fassbinder Films: Love is Colder Than Death - (Katzelmacher) - (Why Does Herr R. Run Amok?) - (Rio das Mortes) - (The American Soldier) - (Whity) - (Beware of a Holy Whore) - (The Merchant of Four Seasons) - World on a Wire - Ali: Fear Eats the Soul - (Martha (1974 film)) - (Effi Briest) - (Fox and His Friends) - (Mother Kuster’s Trip to Heaven) - (Chinese Roulette) - (Germany in Autumn) - (Despair) - (In a Year of 13 Moons) - (The Marriage of Maria Braun) - (Third Generation) - (Berlin Alexanderplatz) - (Lili Marleen) - (Lola (1981 film)) - (Veronika Voss) - Querelle
© thevoid99 2013