Movie Review: The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant

Margit Carstensen and Hanna Schygulla in The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant

Jump to the good stuff: The Story | Some Thoughts | The Final Verdict

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Story:

The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant is a drama about a fashion designer who falls in love with a one of her models.

Petra von Kant (Margit Carstensen) is a newly divorced fashion designer who lives with Marlene (Irm Hermann), another fashion designer who works for her. One day her cousin, Sidonie (Katrin Schaake), visits her and brings a friend, Karin (Hanna Schygulla). Karin is young and beautiful, and Petra quickly falls in love with her.

That evening Karin visits with Petra alone, and the two talk and eat while Marlene waits on them, serving food and drinks. Petra offers Karin a job modeling for her and asks her to live with her to save money. Karin accepts the job and moves in, and they start a relationship together.

When Karin becomes a successful model, she moves out, leaving Petra devastated. Petra agonizes over the breakup and beings to drink uncontrollably and lash out at the people around her until the dramatic conclusion.

Some Thoughts:

Although The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant is about Petra’s relationship with Karin, it’s Marlene who takes center stage. Although Marlene has very few lines, she’s in just about every scene, watching and being obedient. Petra treats Marlene so poorly that even Petras’s guests notice and comment about it.

The film takes place in one room and feels very claustrophobic. A reproduction of Poussin’s Midas and Bacchus adorns the back wall, giving the film a dramatic visual. Petra’s clothes are striking and express her state of mind. And while all of this is great fun for the film critic, the film can also be enjoyed simply for the story.

Writer/director Rainer Werner Fassbinder creates a film that’s as strange as it is intriguing. The acting is subdued and makes it easy to settle into. And while Marlene stays in the background, we see her enough to feel sympathetic towards her. And it’s the sense of sympathy for Marlene that gives the final scene it’s impact.

The Final Verdict:

The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant is a powerful piece of cinema, and one of director Fassbinder’s best films. It was reinterpreted by director François Ozon for his film, Peter von Kant.

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