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The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972)

Die bitteren Tränen der Petra von Kant (original title)
Not Rated | | Drama, Romance | 5 October 1972 (West Germany)
Petra von Kant is a successful fashion designer -- arrogant, caustic, and self-satisfied. She mistreats Marlene (her secretary, maid, and co-designer). Enter Karin, a 23-year-old beauty who... See full summary »


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Complete credited cast:
Eva Mattes ...
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Petra von Kant is a successful fashion designer -- arrogant, caustic, and self-satisfied. She mistreats Marlene (her secretary, maid, and co-designer). Enter Karin, a 23-year-old beauty who wants to be a model. Petra falls in love with Karin and invites her to move in. The rest of the film deals with the emotions of this affair and its aftermath. Fassbinder tells his story in a series of 5 or 6 long scenes with extended uses of a single camera shot and deep focus. Written by <jhailey@hotmail.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Sex is the ultimate weapon.


Drama | Romance


Not Rated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





Release Date:

5 October 1972 (West Germany)  »

Also Known As:

The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant  »

Box Office


DEM 325,000 (estimated)

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?


The painting covering the wall in Petra's apartment is a gigantic blowup of Nicolas Poussin's 1629 painting "Midas and Bacchus" . See more »


Petra von Kant: Of course he took me seriously, respected my opinions... but nevertheless, he wanted to be the breadwinner. That way, oppression lies, that's obvious. It's like this, 'I hear what you're saying and of course I understand, but who brings home the bacon?' So there you are, two sets of rules!
See more »

Crazy Credits

Gewidmet dem, der hier Marlene wurde. (Dedicated to the one who became Marlene here) See more »


References All About Eve (1950) See more »


'Un dì felice' from 'La Traviata'
Written by Giuseppe Verdi
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User Reviews

A searing reminder of what a galvanising experience cinema could be.
26 March 2001 | by (dublin, ireland) – See all my reviews

The archetypal mid-period Fassbinder film of the kind so lovingly pastiched/parodied in Francois Ozon's 'Water Falling on Burning Rocks'. Like much of his early work, the film is based on his own play, which 'limitation' Fassbinder compounds by refusing to open it out - imprisonment and immobility being central Fassbinder themes, as well as providing the metaphors that theatre provokes - role-playing, dual/multiple identities, staging.

The film is like a prison drama - its four acts never leave Petra's preposterously ornate bedroom, filled with dolls, mannequins (she is a fashion designer), and the kind of obtrusive decor that allows Fassbinder to compose intricate multiple-frame tableaux - and neither does Petra. In the 'real' world of the film, she is a jet-setter, attending celebrity shows, photo-shoots, but in the film world, she is paralysed, stuck not only in this bedroom, but in a circumscribed series of poses and movements, not to mention stock phrases and attitudes.

if she makes any progress at all, it is a negative one, as she declines from empty rhetoric about freedom to a horrified admission of her own self-entrapment, appropriately visualised in the bars of her bed-frame, and the mirror that reflects her back on herself, consumes her, like Narcissus, sucked into her own self-love, her gestures at role-play doomed attempts at consolidating her own egotistical power.

What's worse, other characters seem as imprisoned as her, but they can come and go, even if they are doomed to return, condemned to the same relations with Petra, even if power-relations shift. Only one character seems to break free - Karin - and that is by using, humiliating and ditching Petra. Like 'All about my mother', 'Bitter Tears' is a loose remake of 'All About Eve' - Petra is even paying alimony to a certain 'Joseph Mankiewicz'. Karin is the rising star who submits herself to an elder mentor for as long as it suits before dumping her when she has taken what she needs. Of course, Fassbinder elides any Hollywood melodrama inherent in such a set-up: each 'act' involves a large time gap, so that Karin's turning nasty seems disturbingly abrupt.

Stylistically, the film's closed world is matched by the restricted camera movements and murky colours. Fassbinder constantly distances us from the melodrama, by compositions at once comic and mocking - the tears of two women being framed by mannequins etc. In one brilliant scene, Petra talks to Sidonie while looking into her hand mirror so that she appears to be talking to herself, both Sidonie and her 'reflection' interrogating her.

The women's bodies are undermined not only by unflattering framing, but by the fetishistic, limbless plastic figures surrounding them. Most incongruous of all is the large wall size painting that forms a background to the film, a large classical subject with abandoned child, prone woman and upright man, continually ironising, mocking, undermining the narrative, even provoking it, as characters pose in a similar fashion. There is one crucial difference - the man - the crucial absence from this male-mediated female psychodrama.

Well, one of two. Another is the speech of Petra's long-suffering servant Marlene, who may, or may not, be the real creative force behind Petra's success, who exists in a Beckett-like relationship with her mistress as the latter, like Hamm in 'Endgame', winds down towards inertia. Like the audience, she is mute, and observing. She is also the one sympathetic character, her isolation and anguish eloquently expressed in some very moving composions as she stands behind screens, unable to say no.

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