Top positive review
4 people found this helpful
Fassbinder's ultimate masterpiece
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.