The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant (1972)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Gay & Lesbian Films, Melodrama  |   Run Time - 124 min.  |   Countries - West Germany  |  
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Very much a "love it or hate it" kind of movie, The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant is also a movie unlike any other. Rainer Werner Fassbinder revels in the fact that Petra is played entirely on one set -- and not an especially large one at that. The claustrophobia of this setting mirrors the suffocation that is part and parcel of these characters' world, a suffocation caused by a lack of communication which is in turn caused by their perverse obsession with power. This obsession is most obvious in the sado-masochistic relationships of the characters, in which dominance and subservience are key, but it trickles down into every aspect of their lives. Yet despite the fact that Petra is a one-set film, Fassbinder makes it cinematic. His compositions in each and every frame are stunning, and his lengthy shots have a grace and depth to them that provide impact. The dialogue throughout is arch, stilted, artificial and highly quotable; it's over the top and deliberately unrealistic, adding to the distancing effect that mirrors these character's inability to communicate in a sane and humane manner. To play such dialogue requires intense commitment on the part of the actors, and those in Petra are brilliant. Yes, they are stylized and unrealistic, but that's what Fassbinder is going for and they are fascinating and spellbinding -- even the silent Irm Hermann. Lead Margit Carstensen is deserving of special mention for her committed, devastating performance. Those who tune in to Fassbinder will find Petra a challenge but a thrill; those who don't will be incredibly bored.