Daily Archives: Sunday, April 28, 2024

  • The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant   Rainer Fassbinder(1974; FDR)

    The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant   Rainer Fassbinder(1974; FDR) Margit Castensen, Hanna Schygula

    viewed Star and Shadow Cinema Newcastle 14 April 2024; ticket £7


    as it is from above so from below


    Fassbinder’s movies divide into dialogues with two of his principle underlying concerns:

    the socio-political aspects of fascism that continue to feed into and shape Germany

    and the psycho-social effects of the burgeoning consumer society shaping

    contemporary relationships.  moat of his films, Bitter Tears…included take on a satirical



    ‘Bitter Tears …’ an atactile sumptuous melodrama that revolves about a

    group of women who Fassbinder depicts as Goddesses rather than mortals. Shot in

    1974 his characters are not costumed in the fashion styles of the era: short skirts and

    tights, flared pants, dresses with waist belts, tartan or strong patterned material etc.

    His principle women Petra and Karin are rigged out in resplendent gowns draping

    over their bodies reaching down to their ankles. They look like they might

    have stepped out a painting by Poussin, a huge enlargement of one of which

    dominates Petra’s bedroom where most of the action takes place. But of course Greek

    Gods and Goddesses, in their foibles their love life their ambitions and jealousies,

    were human all to human.


    Fassbinder saw clearly that consumer society developing out of the 50’s and 60’s by the 1970’s had created a new set of Gods and Goddesses from the worlds of fashion and music. They were more or less conjoined with Hollywood stars in the firmament of the public’s imagination. Like their Greek forebears but in a different culture, these new titans were living out in exaggerated form the new possibilities presented by capitalist culture, and in a sense the characters of Petra and Karin are ironically depicted in ‘Bitter Tears’ as larger than life facsimiles of ourselves. Bodiless beings real in image.


    There is a contradictory force running throughout ‘Bitter Tears’. The interplay of image and body. The characters have an incorporeal nature. Petra’s infatuation with Karin is for her image not herself or her body; Petra who designs clothes to cover the body also wants to drape the soul so that all that is seen of the woman is form. Fassbinder’s method of filming promotes the idea of disassociation. On a number of occasions when editing from a long shot to a close up, he often crosses the line, disrupting continuity by introducing an angle of view that breaks the audience’s expectations of scene unity – inducing a momentary disassociation with character. The filming of ‘Bitter Tears’ is also marked by the camera’s movements both about and through the set and also in the filming of his characters, in particular Marlene and Petra.


    The set comprises one more or less unified space which is dominated by the huge double bed and the large Poussin repro. Aside from the Poussin mural it’s a bleached out space. The double bed all white linen, the room dominated by whiteness with dark recesses, background areas occupied by Marlene her helper. As the camera tracks about and through the space it creates the effect of being in a timeless domain. This effect is compounded by the use of mirrors as a key component in Fassbinder’s shot culture as the camera pans off and through mirrors from reflection to action creating effects that intermingle past and present time, intermingle the real and the virtual: a world where nothing is quite as it appears to be. A world based on an existential fragility, shared by Goddesses and mortals.


    Broken down into chapters Fassbinder’s focus is the successful fashion designer Petra and her psycho-social state of mind as she moves from rationalisation to infatuation, from control to despair recrimination and reconciliation and finally loss. The agitation of life captured not just in Petra’s dialogues where she moves from cynicism to desperate need rejection and judgement. Fassbinder’s dialogues for Petra work to trap her in an dense web of self involvement that is ultimately unseeing. The more she wants to understand the less she understands.


    This inability to understand what is happening is concentrated in her relationship with Marlene whose precise role is unclear.   She acts as a personal assistant come dogs body come collaborator. Whether working in the shadows or ordered about by Petra she is put upon abused treated with the contempt reserved for minions. What passes by Petra’s attention is that Marlene loves her; but it is not an unconditional love. It is a particular form of love premised on Marlene’s need for her love to remain unrecognised unreturned. In a sense it is the religious love of an acolyte for a goddess, which demands only the opportunity to suffer in return for the right to worship. Petra doesn’t understand this so when her infatuation with Karin is rejected her emotionally aroused state requires another object. With few candidates she lights upon Marlene and suddenly announces to her that she loves her. At which point Marlene’s love dissolves drains out of her, setting up the ironic and humorous last shot in which we see in mid frame an open suitcase on the floor of Petra’s bedroom.     Dropping her clothes and belongings Marlene passes to and fro in front of it, finally closing it, picking it up and without a word leaves Petra.


    Goddesses have to understand there are consequences for playing human games.

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