Sunday, August 31, 2014

554. Die bitteren Tranen der Petra Von Kant/The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant (1972)

Running Time: 124 minutes
Directed By: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Written By: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Main Cast: Margit Carstensen, Irm Hermann, Hanna Schygulla, Gisela Fackeldey, Katrin Schaake

I wanted to make a quick note and let everyone know just how excited I am for these Fassbinder pictures. I've only ever seen two R.W. Fassbinder movies: Love Is Colder Than Death and Why Does Herr R. Run Amok?, which he only co-directed with someone else. About a month or so before I started the BOOK project, I made a conscious decision to broaden my horizons when it came to movies and see more older films and more foreign ones. I somehow got turned on to R.W. Fassbinder and somehow picked those two movies as my introduction to him (I'm not sure why I picked those two, since they're two of the most obscure ones, but whatever). Anyway, I didn't delve very deep before THE BOOK caught my eye at the bookstore and I turned to it for a way of broadening my horizons. Anyway, I've been holding these Fassbinder pictures for a rainy day and it just so happens that it's literally and figuratively raining today. Things have been a bit slow going on the blog, due to me losing a bit of my fire for the project and a string of bland films. I hope I haven't set my hopes too high, but I can tell you that I'm greatly looking forward to these in hopes of finding a new favorite director. I don't know what it is, but somehow I think that I'm really going to dig Fassbinder. Let's jump right in and find out, shall we...


I didn't really want to do another tribute week so close to the Bresson Week stuff, but both Fox and His Friends and ...Petra Von Kant were on a "very long wait" from Netflix and when Fox and His Friends became available and got shipped, I decided to seek out TBTOPVK and just go for it. I managed to find ...Petra Von Kant on YouTube and thus, here we are.

The film is structured like a play, with all of the action confined to one room and a very dialogue heavy script. The film, as far as I saw it, could be split into four sections. The first section introduces the audience to Petra Von Kant (Carstensen) and her assistant Marlene (Hermann). Petra is a fashion designer and her room is filled with mannequins, clothing samples and drawing materials for clothing design. We never hear Marlene speak a word, instead only hearing Petra order her around ("get me some fresh squeeze orange juice, I'm dying of thrist", "is there any mail?") and treating her basically like a servant. In this introductory section, we also meet Sidonie (Schaake), a friend of Petra's who stops for a visit. While there, Petra tells Sidonie all about her recent divorce from her second husband Frank, whom she grew to loathe. Near the end of this section, we also meet Karin (Schygulla), a friend of Sidonie's who Petra is meeting for the first time. Petra suggests that Karin visit the next night, to talk about the prospect of becoming one of her models. The second section is basically just the prearranged date between Petra and Karin that was made at the end of the first part. They talk about being young and in school, about their loves, about Karin's possible modeling career and about Karin's parents. Karin is married, but her husband is in Sydney. When Petra learns that Karin is spending money on hotels, she offers to let her stay with her. Karin accepts and this part ends with Petra and Karin pronouncing their love for each other. The next section is six months later and portrays an argument between Petra and Karin (meanwhile Marlene is in the background nearly the entire time, throughout all sections). I don't want to give too much away for fear of spoilage, but lets just say it's a nasty argument that threatens their relationship, one that Petra values far more than Karin. Petra states her love for Karin often and enthusiastically, while Karin can only admit to liking Petra and perhaps not convinced of her own sexual tendencies. The final section takes place on Petra's birthday, with both her mother and her daughter visiting her, as well as Sidonie. Karin is expected, but will she show?


My God, where to begin? So much to analyze, so many thoughts to pour out so that I have them down on paper somewhere and can reference them the next time I watch this, as I'm sure there will be a next time. Let's just jump right in, paying no mind to proper writing structure, shall we?

Over at IMDB, someone started an extremely interesting topic suggesting that Marlene and Frank (Petra's 2nd ex-husband) are the same person? Isn't that a genius idea? It makes total sense too! The poster states that Marlene did look sort of "mannish" and that Marlene would make her most desperate and pathetic gazes toward Petra during the times she was talking about Frank. I actually read this post prior to watching the movie, as I was doing a bit of pre-research the other day at lunch and was able to watch very carefully to see if this was possible and it totally is! The time frames even match up, as Petra tells Karin that she took Marlene on three years ago, just about the exact time that she married Frank. Petra also makes it clear that she loathed Frank's masculinity in particular, so it wouldn't be out of the question that she'd totally dominate him and force him to change his sex for her, as a way to make their marriage work. I think it's obvious that at some point, Petra decides she's no longer interested in men and let's face it, I'm sure Fassbinder would be all for a story about a man in drag (or even a completely transformed man, now living as a woman) gracing his script, as Fassbinder himself was bisexual. The poster suggests that you watch the film sometime with this thought in mind and I do too, because it fits and it's an interesting take on the film.

Desperation personified

However, even if it's not true, the Marlene character is still very interesting. My other theory (which I conjured on my own) is that Marlene and Petra once had a mirror image relationship to that of Petra and Karin, with Marlene in the Petra role and Petra in the Karin role. Stay with me here. In this scenario, I see Marlene as a once successful, confident designer who met Petra Von Kant and fell head over heels for her (like Petra did with Karin). Petra bit the bullet and began this lesbian relationship with Marlene, despite not being sure of her feelings. When things went sour, instead of ending it (like Karin would do) Petra stuck around and just chose to treat Marlene like dirt instead, getting "that old feeling" every once in a while, whenever SHE feels like it (the dance they share, for example). Marlene accepts it, because like Petra at the end of the film as it pertains to Karin, she's desperate for any sort of attention Petra would throw at her, even if it's abuse. There's also the chance that Marlene is just a submissive and Petra a dominant and they're in a relationship. No real clues as to what the truth is, but this is an instance where I really don't mind, as I find each explanation so intriguing that picking which one I like the best is more fun than just being told. I guess the sub/dom relationship is the go to explanation and most people cite this as why Marlene leaves in the end, as she sees a weakness in her dominant girlfriend and now can no longer take the abuse (which is a sexual turn on) seriously. And for anyone claiming that Marlene is mute and CAN'T speak, I say "no". Notice a scene where the phone rings, she picks it up and nearly gets out a "hello" before having the receiver yanked from her hand by Petra. A mute would have no reason to even pick up the phone...

What about the Karin character, was she ever really a lesbian? Or are we to assume that she's merely a gold digger, taking Petra's offer for a place to live and a jump start at a modeling career and sacrificing a few "I love you's" in the process, while her husband is away in Sydney? I think so. Karin never wanted a realtionship with Petra at all and when things got a bit too serious on that day - the day Petra donned the red wig - not to mention a phone call from her husband, now ready to reunite, she split without any real emotional attachment. She may have grown to care for her somewhat, which would explain her phone call at the end of the film, but I'd say Karin is more of a gold digger than a lesbian.

The film is really good, but beware that many cite it as very boring too. It's dialogue HEAVY (in fact, it's basically nothing but dialogue) so be prepared to listen to people just talk for a couple of hours. I will say this too, any points I deduct will likely be for the first two sections, which are filled with really less than perfect dialogue. Honestly, Petra and Sidonie's initial interaction could've either been cut way down or spiced way up, as they go on and on for probably nearly thirty minutes and honestly don't say much. It's crucial stuff though, as this is where we learn about Frank, so it's hard to say just take it out. The stuff between Karin and Petra, during their date is also pretty stale, as they spend minutes at a time talking about their school days and how Petra liked Algebra, but Karin just didn't get it and on and on and on. However, things get a lot better after that, as the big argument scene, as well as the birthday stuff are all GREAT, with Margit Carstensen pouring her freakin' heart out all over the screen.

RATING: 7.5/10  See, in a way I want to go higher, but then I remembered those droning dialogue scenes between Petra & Sidonie and Petra & Karin and I just can't help but take some points off. By the way, if Fassbinder really did write this entire film during a plane ride to Hollywood, that's insane! I'm racking my brain trying to figure these characters out & their intentions and for him, it's just busy work between putting on and taking off his seat belt and putting his tray table in its locked and upright position.


August 31, 2014  5:37pm


  1. I really could never decide which side to come down on for this one.. somehow it manages to be both intriguing and full of meaning.. and yet deadly dull at the same time.
    I know that sounds rubbish..

    1. Not rubbish, I agree actually. I, of course, saw the meaning and the intrigue, while still thinking certain pieces seemed to drone on. A tough nut to crack indeed.


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