{Of all lies, art is the least untrue - Flaubert}

Monday, March 04, 2013

The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant

Fox and his friends was my first Rainer Werner Fassbinder movie but it didn't click for me. Barring some scenes in the last reels, it left me cold. So I thought to give Fassbinder another try with The Bitter tears of Petra Von Kant and now I realize why they say Fassbinder is one of the greatest film makers ever.

The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant is adapted from a play that Fassbinder wrote and it shows since the movie is almost theatrical and there is no effort to reduce that effect. There are stay-still camera angles, camera never searches for characters but characters find their place to fit in whereas the camera rests! With minimal camera movements, no outdoor scenes, six female characters out of which one never speaks and four have small screen times, overlong conversations, set in a claustrophobic apartment, no action as such, one might suspect how this movie is going to bind you. But The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant works on different level and all this stage-like setting and acting works wonders for it.

The Bitter Tears is a piece from the life of Petra Von Kant, a successful fashion designer just divorced from her husband because 'He stank of man'. In the beginning of the movie, she is shown as a manipulative career woman busy with her work and bosses with her assistant cum slave Marlene, expressionless girl who doesn't utter a word in the whole movie and is just like many of the mannequins lying here and there in Petra's apartment, except that she obeys Petra's orders all the time.

As the movie proceeds, Petra falls in love with a young girl Karin and promises to help her to become a model. But Karin care least of Petra. The treatment that Karin gives to Petra is almost like what Petra inflict on Marlene. Petra breaks down when Karin leaves her for a her husband. There is not much of story but here we see human relationships in darkest and bleakest form. Petra's definition of love was based on dominance, possessiveness and dependence., but when Karin flies away leaving her heartbroken she realizes the importance of freedom. One of the story dialogue movie goes like 'People need each other but haven't found a way to live with each other'. Petra has been in many relationships, all were failure and her one sided affair with Karin devastates her to realize the need of freedom and equality in a relation and as a sign of the change she lets Marlene go. Petra who once says 'Everyone is dispensable' realizes the shallowness of the statement much later. Petra starts out as someone who is strong and can manipulate people and their emotions, turns into a inconsolably helpless fellow by the final reel. Her act of freeing Marlene can be seen as a redemption of all she has done all the years to Marlene and the likes without having an idea that it could happen to her. Petra character has shades of humility but a closer look tells us they are all selfish, inorder to gain love of Karin. Her treatment to Marlene and Karin are too contrasting, suggesting that we treat people differently depending upon what they can offer to us. Petra later realizes that all the relationships cannot work in the terms of being master or slave and how painful it is to be on the receiving end. The bitter helplessness of Petra is evident when she asks Karin 'Do you love me', Karen reluctantly replies 'I love you in my own way'. She could have said no too, but she needed money that Petra can only provide. Here the manipulations of relationships seems so clear and brutal.

The other strong point of the movie is superb performance by the all-female cast. Margit Carstensen is Petra is nothing short of brilliant and Irm Hermann as Marlene has a ghostly presence. There are some of the shot that are exceptionally excellent, one of them is the final breakdown of Petra, nicely-dressed but devastated waiting for Karin's call sitting on a velvety carpet on her Birthday with a mural in the background.

The Bitter Tears of Petra Van Kant is about one of the pet themes of Fassbinder which he referred to as "Fascism of everyday life". Here Fassbinder paints a bleak picture of life, where every relationship is inherently manipulative and our 'potential use' is our only worth, sooner and later we realize that not only we are used by someone, but we also use others from time to time in the name of noblest emotions of love and friendship.

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