The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant established a radical and decisive shift in Fassbinder’s cinematic form and grammar – from austere, low-budget, experimental films to the kind of flamboyantly conceived, lusciously mounted and heavily stylized melodramas that he’s associated with. During an eight-month hiatus that he took from filmmaking after making a staggering 10 films between 1969 and 1972, he devoured Douglas Sirk’s movies and even met the then retired filmmaker at his residence in Switzerland, which catalysed this transition. It also searingly mirrored his left-wing politics and homosexuality, alongside an intensely auto-fictional evocation of his own relationships with actor Günther Kaufmann and his assistant Peer Raben. The resultant work, consequently, combined formal exactitude, sensational stylistic flourishes and fervid passions with sharp political subtexts – on power, privilege and class – and stirring self-expression, thus making this a ravishing, complex and turbulent accomplishment. Adapted from a play written by RWF himself, it manifested the theatre through its structure – viz. four acts and an epilogue – and by rigorously setting it entirely within the confines of a single room, which interlaced both artifice and claustrophobia into the emotional upheavals demonstrated by its stunning all-female cast. The film’s three central characters were the eponymous heroine (Margit Carstensen), a haughty and famous fashion designer recovering from yet another marital break-down; a strikingly captivating, nubile and icy ingenue (Hanna Schygulla) who the older woman falls crazily in love with; and Petra’s silent and suffering assistant (Irm Hermann). This ferocious chamber drama, that provoked controversy upon its release, was further underpinned by its gorgeous cinematography by Michael Ballhaus, resplendent ensembles, idiosyncratic props, campy dialogues, evocative use of music, and a giant print of Poussin's Midas and Bacchus.
Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Romantic Drama