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on 4 May 2011
During his 37 years on Earth, the great German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder made a total of 41 films in his 13 year film career. Not counting the countless plays, TV series and acting gigs he did, his output was ferocious, much like his personal life. There have been many things written and spoken about Fassbinder - that he was anti-Semitic, tyrannical, misanthropic and homophobic (even though he was an open homosexual) - yet no-one will deny his raw genius and his place as a driving force in the New German Cinema movement. He made many fantastic films, and I don't think I would be alone is stating that he was at his best when dealing with melodrama, and more specifically, complex female characters.

Possibly his best known film, Fear Eats The Soul, is widely considered his best, but I feel that The Bitter Tears Of Petra Von Kant shows Fassbinder at the top of his game. He usually worked with the same troupe of actors (Brigitte Mira, Kurt Raab, Karlheinz Bohm amongst others) and here he has two of his finest - Margit Carstensen as the powerful yet desperate fashion designer Petra Von Kant, and Hanna Schygulla (who played the title character in Fassbinder's other masterpiece The Marriage Of Maria Braun) as her newly appointed love interest, Karin. In my opinion, Carstensen is one of the finest actresses in cinema history, along with Bette Davis and Liv Ullmann, and is never better here. She is dominating and sadistic, yet when she opens up to her cousin Sidonie (Katrin Scaake) or her new lesbian lover Karin, she is tragic, broken and lonely. It is a tour-de-force on display, as her character changes as much as she changes her hairpieces.

Petra is residing in her apartment when we first meet her, awoken by fellow designer Marlene (Irm Hermann) who stays with her. We quickly learn that Petra sadistically treats Marlene like a slave, ordering her to bring her things and even orders her to slow-dance at one point. When she is joined by her cousin, Petra reveals how her past relationships with men have ended in disaster and resentment, and that men will ultimately leave her empty and disappointed. She is introduced to Karin, a timid model who Petra visibly becomes interested in, and eventually infatuated by. As Petra and Karin start a seemingly cold and difficult relationship, Petra's jealousy and fear of loneliness comes to the fore as she struggles to hold herself together. In one particularly powerful scene, Petra sits motionless on the edge of the bed after being told by Karin how none-existent her feelings really are, and a single tear rolls slowly down her face. Her face is as white as porcelain and as motionless as a doll, as the realisation hits her that her situation is as fake as the mannequins she decorates with her creations.

Adapted from his own play, Fassbinder never moves the action outside Petra's claustrophobic apartment, instead allowing the pent up feelings to explode within the confines of one room. The screenplay, acting, cinematography and music is absolute perfection, and in my opinion this is Fassbinder's crowning achievement. The final scene, which I won't reveal, is in turn hilarious and heartbreaking. If you are as spellbound as I am by the acting talents of Carstensen, then I would recommend both Fear Of Fear and Satan's Brew (both Fassbinder) to see the full range of her ability. Possibly the finest film of the New German Cinema movement.

[...]
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on 22 August 2006
Claustrophobic, talky and highly inventive - The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant is a key film in the development of R.W. Fassbinder's art. According to longtime colleague Ulli Lommel, Fassbinder wrote the entire work (which also became a play and, posthumously, a modernist opera) during an 11 hour plane journey from Germany to LA. Excited by this flush of creativity, Fassbinder ordered his entourage to head straight back home and shot the entire film in a extraordinary 10 days.

Set wholly within one room in the home of successful fashion designer Petra Von Kant, the film deals with the destructive love affair Petra (Margit Carstensen) begins with aspiring model Karin (Hanna Schygulla). As one of Fassbinder's early forays into the reexamination of 1950's Hollywood melodrama, the film has the tendency to polarize audiences with it's highly stylized and almost stagy approach. Even the lack of incidental music may jar with those not familiar with the director's work. Rather than using a swelling score giving cues to the emotions the audience is meant to feel, Fassbinder opts instead for selective natural sound (a typewriter endlessly clacking away in the background during an important scene, for instance) and records from Von Kant's (i.e. Fassbinder's) record collection. Without this trapping, we watch Petra's self-destruction with a certain ambiguity and a more considered response is elicited from the viewer. More space is also given to the magnificent dialogue and inventive camerawork (shot in long, winding takes) which allows the fine ensemble cast to to plunder the depths of emotional despair, all the while dressed in Von Kant's wonderfully outrageous designs.

This is all the more fascinating when read as a thinly veiled confession of Fassbinder's domineering ways with those in his inner circle. As also pointed out by Lommel, the film's exclusively female characters were actually all based on men. Fassbinder, however, mostly preferred to work with women as he felt they were freer to express extreme states of emotional truth and more open to the requirements of high melodrama. As a primer for the great director's work, The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant is an excellent example of Fassbinder's over-riding theme: how the hunter can quickly become the victim and that the universality of desire and need within all human relationships is a constant, regardless of status, sexuality or age.
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on 10 August 2007
This is intended as a tentative set of comments rather than as an authoritative review because I don't know Fassbinder's films very well yet. I've seen 'The Marriage of Maria Braun' twice - and I think it's superb - but 'Petra von Kant' is only the second of his films that I've seen - and it's a very different experience from 'Maria Braun'.

As Shane James Bordas says here, the feeling of this film is claustrophobic in some ways - we're shut in Petra's studio/bedroom throughout the film - but the set is also extremely rich in colours, images and textures. There is, in fact, a warmth and an intimacy about the set that, for me, was missing from the characters themselves. You can see that the piece was conceived as a stage play, but the constant movement of the camera around the set and the figures in it makes the experience very different from just watching a film of a play. We are inside the room as we watch it. It's theatrical but not 'stagey', if that makes sense.

I felt uncertain throughout the film - I think because I was very unsure how Fassbinder expected me to 'read' it. (As Shane Bordas also says, there are no cues for interpretation - or, I think, for judgement.) I immediately disliked the characters, particularly Petra, so I found myself enjoying surfaces rather than people. I wasn't bored, but I wasn't enthralled either. I did, however, give up watching about halfway through, and then went back to it the next day, when I watched it through to the end. I found the climactic scene - Petra's 'tears' - disturbingly cruel, though that isn't intended as a negative. And the ending, which I shouldn't give away, is enigmatic. It left me hanging.

So do I recommend this film? I don't know. It certainly isn't rubbish. And it has stayed with me over the two days since I saw it. In fact, I feel as if I can remember every scene in complete detail. That's almost certainly untrue, of course, but the fact that the film leaves such a distinct impression on my mind's eye is, I think, some kind of testimony to its power. I find it odd that I have such a strong memory of a film that I didn't fully connect to, emotionally at least. Nevertheless, I found it - and still find it - intriguing - hence this rather disjointed and tentative review.

I should also add that the acting is magnificent. There's a sense of enormous control and precision throughout the film - in both the acting and the direction. Whether or not I fully understood it - I probably didn't - the film felt completely 'created'. There was nothing to add or subtract. It was a bit like trying to understand a piece of art from an alien culture: I didn't know exactly what it meant but I felt it was exactly what it ought to be.
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on 4 December 2000
A perfectly controlled, deadpan mapping of a lesbian fashion designer's descent into hysteria and self-delusion. The central character is less victim than monster and an icy frisson is added by her keeping of a masochistic slave who cannot tolerate acts of kindness. Dialogue heavy and set in a single room, this is one of cinema's least apolagetic adaptations of a stage play, dividing itself into two neatly contrasting acts and rarely altering the camera angle. Particularly recommended to fans of Warhol's characteristic cocktail of boredom, madness and depravity.
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on 21 March 2014
This early 1970s film by German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder is loosely based on the Bette Davis classic, All About Eve. All of the action takes place in the apartment of successful fashion designer, Petra, which she shares with her long suffering assistant, Marlene. The film focuses on the relationship that develops between Petra and Hanna, a beautiful young woman who embarques on a modelling career with Petra's help.

Although viewing is sometimes uncomfortable one is drawn in by the film's unflinching analysis of the changing balance of power in this relationship. Margit Carstensen is wonderful as Petra, whose mood alters as frequently as the various flamboyant designs and wigs that she wears. However the presence of the silent and much abused Marlene (Irm Hermann) who "hears everything, sees everything and knows everything" is always apparent and this adds to the tension as the drama unfolds.

The cinematography is excellent - shots are skilfully framed to comment on the action, sometimes incorporating the huge Baroque mural in the bedroom or fixtures such as wooden beams. At other times the women are photographed as if in tribute to Ingmar Bergman's intimate chamber works such as Persona.

Although The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant is perhaps not the best place to begin watching Fassbinder's films it is one of his most successful creations and repeated viewings can be rewarding. However, for an introduction to Fassbinder I would suggest watching The Marriage of Maria Braun.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 5 September 2012
I still can't get into Fassbinder's world, here. Saw it many years ago, possibly on Film 4 and now twice, recently where it's been on Sky Arts.

There's no doubt that it is an important film, both for Fassbinder himself and for European cinema. It's like a moving art gallery, so well and immaculately filmed, the angles, the depth of focus and the set design all rivet one's eyes to the screen. The elegant, flowing movements of Margit Carstensen and Hanna Schygulla (as von Kant and her object of desire, Karin) are measured, precise, not like real life at all. They sometimes do appear like made up shop-dummies, so static; Fassbinder even includes actual dummies scattered around, limbless, clotheless - obviously a strong metaphor. von Kant IS a supremely influential and successful fashion designer and so maybe these visual signals extend this.

However, this intense study of lesbian affairs - apparently an ode to the Bette Davis classic All About Eve; interestingly, Pedro Almodovir likewise made All About My Mother - which must have been quite a formidable movie to make exactly forty years ago - is basically, just talk. Of course, dialogue is important to all films but this is a world alien to me and something is locking me out. Maybe the visuals are too rich - the subtitles float above the perfect imagery. I can't help feeling that if one of my real favourite directors, Ingmar Bergman, was making this one, I'd be right in there.
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on 4 April 2016
Absolutely amazing film from Fassbinder, the mis-en-scene and compositions are amazing, as is the acting and story. Superb
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on 8 May 2011
These films like "Fear Eats The Soul" and "The Bitter Tears Of Petra Von Kant" are what makes Fassbinder glorious to me.

The newly seperated Petra meets beautiful new model who comes to her house and falls fatally in love. If you say "in love, always one of them loves more" your point is being made with dire honesty. The secondary plot undergoing also is very nice, which is Petra's never-speaking, but not mute actually, servant.

The terrible part of break-ups are mostly skipped in movies, which is the devastation of the abandoned. Fassbinder puts that part with immense intensity and sincerity.

There is no director whose every piece I love. And I have Fassbinder films also which I don't like. But this one is still the best film of his I have watched up to now.
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on 26 August 2008
i dont know fassbinders films but i did enjoy this one. it does get very surreal in parts,very melodramatic and very theatrical,as if you are watching it at the theatre..big time. not got a great desire to see it again but glad i saw it the once.
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on 18 January 2015
Present
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