Review: Die Bitteren Tränen Der Petra Von Kant (The Bitter Tears Of Petra Von Kant, 1972)

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Another gem from a criminally underrated director!

Screenplay By: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Directed By: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

We all want to be loved, but do we truly understand what love is? Is love relegated to what we think it is, or is love a combination of your love and your partners love? It’s painfully obvious that love should be the combination of two people, yet in so many relationships it isn’t a combined love but one person forcing their view of love on someone else. In a lot of relationships there is such a thing as destructive love, someone can love too much or someone can fake a love for someone else. Love is a tricky subject and one that contains tremendous depth, so what does Rainer Werner Fassbinder have to say about love?

The love Fassbinder presents in Die Bitteren Tränen Der Petra Von Kant is destructive love mixed with unrequited love. Petra knows how to love, but she only knows how to love her way and that is when someone is the object of her desires and pushes her away. Karin knows how to love, but that is only when the person loving her lavishes her with praise and gifts without expecting much in return. Marlene knows how to love, but that is only when the object of her affection allows her to be subservient. None of the characters in Die Bitteren Tränen Der Petra Von Kant are looking for a love between two people, they are looking for someone who they can transpose their love upon.

This creates a scenario where the idea is clearly presented, but not the meaning or interpretation of the idea. It is true that you can watch Die Bitteren Tränen Der Petra Von Kant and come away with any number of meanings on what you are seeing. What I most took away from the film was the idea that their isn’t such a thing as male or female singularity in regards to relationship pain. Men will hurt women in a relationship, women will hurt men, women will hurt women and even though it doesn’t show it, men will probably hurt men. Humanity likes to hurt each other, that’s just the way we operate. Too often when it comes to relationships we like to pigeonhole pain to gender, as if somehow women are incapable of hurting their partners on the same level as men are, or vice-versa. Any person is capable of pain, any relationship can be hurtful, it is a universal and an individual facet of humanity, not something relegated to gender.

I also loved how Fassbinder worked with the paradox that is humanity through the character of Petra. She rails about how much Karin is hurting her, how she doesn’t understand why someone she loves so much would hurt her in such a fashion. Yet she turns around and does the same thing to Marlene on a regular basis, hurting someone who loves her absolutely and she hurts Marlene without giving it a second thought. We want what we want and we don’t understand how the world works, we miss truths that our right in front of our faces because they don’t suit our needs.

At first I wondered how this jived with the ending and Marlene’s decision to leave, but then I realized that Marlene wants to be subservient to Petra, she will put up with all the pain Petra can throw her way because she only loves that Petra, not a Petra that would treat her decently. Marlene operates on a singular form of love just as the rest of the characters in Die Bitteren Tränen Der Petra Von Kant do. Marlene wants to serve Petra’s every need and desire, but she does hurt when Petra is in pain and when Petra lashes out at her while in pain. This distinction is only made possible through the brilliant acting of Irm Hermann. Her character of Marlene never speaks a word the entire film, yet her wants, desires and emotions are plainly displayed in her eyes and on her face. The performance of Margit Carstensen as Petra adds to the believability of every idea put forth on screen. I have only seen her in a couple of movies so far, but from what I have seen Carstensen is a freaking amazing actress. She is capable of great emotion, vulnerability, conveying power and hurt. She can be melodramatic or quiet, but she is always great. Hermann and Carstensen make a great one two punch.

The last aspect of Die Bitteren Tränen Der Petra Von Kant that I would like to touch on is the setting used. The movie takes place in a lone room, and while at first it may seem like a stage driven choice, and maybe it was, it also works as perfect conductor for the story. That room is Petra’s world, she is powerful in that room, she is domineering, manipulative and in control in that room. The moment Karin enters the room Petra’s power begins to leave her. Karin destroys Petra moment by moment simply by existing and the setting never once has to change.

I have made it known that I consider Rainer Werner Fassbinder to be an underrated genius in the field of directors. He has a brilliant eye for emotions and how to use them, and I have never seen him better than in Die Bitteren Tränen Der Petra Von Kant. Love is a bitch, and Die Bitteren Tränen Der Petra Von Kant is the perfect example of that.

Rating:

****

Cheers,
Bill

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