The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (Die bitteren tranen der Petra von Kant)

The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant

No one can take away the things you learn in life.

I’ve gotta say, I was not expecting this out of such a demure director as Rainer Werner Fassbinder. I’ll lay out a few anecdotes and tidbits about The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, and you can see if they make you as interested in the film as I was, which is to say I barely was at all: it is adapted by Fassbinder from his own stage play, it takes place largely in a single room, and consists mostly of people talking with each other, one of which is amusingly mute throughout the entire film. Interested yet? Yeah, neither was I. But, once again, it seems I should always give the benefit of the doubt to a film adapted from a stage play, even R.W. Fassbinder’s, because this was actually very watchable, and almost certainly the Fassbinder film that made his presence on the list ultimately worth it.

Petra von Kant is a fashion designer who largely works out of her home (or it is implied that she does, since the whole film essentially takes place within her bedroom), helped by her companion Marlene, who doesn’t talk through the whole film and is usually in the background doing menial chores like typing or painting sketches of von Kant’s work. Over the course of several days, von Kant meets with several people, including a young model named Karin, with whom Petra develops a fascination with that eventually evolves into a love affair. Nevertheless, Petra’s past relationships with people, men and women, threaten to once again tear her life apart, especially with the people she believes she values the most. I was almost immediately on my guard when the opening credits rolled, which were set against by far the single most boring opening credits shot I have ever had to sit through. I will also admit, the film took a while to get going, and the idea that the entire film is just the characters talking with each other is not an altogether incorrect one. But, for some very strange reason, I couldn’t help but be fascinated by what was going on; all the interplay between the characters, as well as Petra’s characteristic desire to warp everyone around her into doing whatever she wished of them, that made the film somehow captivating to me. Really, I was surprised at how much attention I was giving the film, since at surface level, that’s all the film was was people talking with each other, added by the actors’ delivery seemingly coming right out of how a stage actor would deliver the lines instead of a film actor. Maybe that was another aspect that helped this be as interesting as it was.

I’ve mentioned numerous times before how I tend to watch films at the surface level, unless the film has nothing at that level and I am thus forced to delve deeper to find something of worth. This was an interesting example of such a film; at surface level, there would seem to be nothing here, but delve a little deeper and suddenly you’re invested so much more than you would’ve thought in such a film. It all comes down to the production; Fassbinder’s choice of where to put the camera and why, the little touches of the actors’ performances, the production design of the bedroom itself, everything that so many other films take for granted that here instead adds another layer to the experience. I will say, though, that I don’t see everyone who tries this film out to have the same experience as I did; there will be quite a few moviegoers who will see nothing here but people talking, and be bored by it all. To that, I can only say, rather frankly, that I feel bad for those people, and that I hope that, given another day and another mindset, they give this another try. There’s a magic here that is inexplicable, impossible to put down into words, and I’d definitely advocate for such a film to be seen at some point in every true cinephile’s life.

Arbitrary Rating: 8/10


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