In the early 1970s, Rainer Werner Fassbinder discovered the American melodramas of Douglas Sirk and was inspired by them to begin working in a new, more intensely emotional register. One of the first and best-loved films of this period in his career is The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, which balances a realistic depiction of tormented romance with staging that remains true to the director's roots in experimental theater. This unforgettable, unforgiving dissection of the imbalanced relationship between a haughty fashion designer (Margit Carstensen) and a beautiful but icy ingenue (Hanna Schygulla)-based, in a sly gender reversal, on the writer-director's own desperate obsession with a young actor-is a true Fassbinder affair, featuring exquisitely claustrophobic cinematography by Michael Ballhaus and full-throttle performances by an all-female cast.
"I think people need each other, they're made that way. But they haven't learnt how to live together." - Petra von Kant
"The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant" (1972) - was the first Fassbinder's film I saw many years ago in Moscow and it had started my fascination and interest in the work of the enormously talented man who was a writer/director/producer/editor/actor for almost all his movies. "The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant" is a screen adaptation of the earlier Fassbinder's play and it never leaves the apartment of Petra Von Kant, an arrogant, sarcastic, and successful fashion designer who constantly mistreats and humiliates her always silent and obedient assistant Marianne (Irm Hermann, with whom Fassbinder made 24 movies). As a background for Petra's apartment, Fassbinder uses the blowup of Poussin's painting "Midas and Bacchus." The use of the mural is ironic on more than one level. Nude Bacchus stands in the center of the mural and is the only male presence in a film populated entirely with women. Petra, not unlike legendary Midas wished for herself a golden girl, young and beautiful Karin with golden hair (Hanna Schygulla, another Fassbinder's muse with whom he made over 20 films). As with Midas from legend, it turned to be a huge mistake for Petra who learned herself what abuse, indifference, and humiliation meant. With just a few characters locked in the claustrophobic and suffocating atmosphere of the apartment, the film is never slow or boring thanks to the young director/writer story-telling ability and to magic camera work by Michael Ballhaus ("Goodfellas", "The Last Temptation of Christ", and "After Hours" among others). It is hard to believe that such a gorgeous looking movie was shot for ten days only. I've read that Fassbinder was able to make so many movies in such a short period of time because they were cheaply produced - no special effects, no big action scenes, no exotic locations. This is true but his movies are most certainly not cheap - highly intelligent, thought provoking, always excellently acted and beautiful or perhaps I've been lucky and have not seen the ones that don't fit the description.
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