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Casting (free)

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Nicolas Wackerbarth's 2017 film riffs on Fassbinder’s "The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant." Info

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When it comes to delving into the the varied interpretations of historically significant films, Cinematheque's 2018 fall programming is unusually sharp and inclusive. In the week following Sirk's All That Heaven Allows (1955) and its two subsequent homages in Ali: Fear Eats The Soul (1973) and Far From Heaven (2002), they're hosting the Madison premiere of Nicolas Wackerbarth's Casting (2017) just five days after a 35mm Chazen presentation of the prolific Fassbinder's The Bitter Tears Of Petra Von Kant (1972), on which it riffs.

In the lively tradition of Alain Resnais' metacinema, which evokes the entanglements of the medium with its roots in theatre and rehearsal (see also: the critically overlooked The Exchange), Casting reproduces the complex dynamics of the relationship between the origin story's fashion designer Petra and her personal assistant/lover Marlene. Here, Marlene is substituted for a male character, Karl, in the resolute but somehow indecisive director Vera (Judith Engel)'s vision, or lack thereof, that she's attempted to pull together for a television event celebrating Fassbinder's 75th birthday. A looming uncertainty permeates all members on set, as Vera has yet to secure the co-leading roles just a week before shooting.

When Casting hones in on the intrigue and comedy of the vexatious circus of the casting process, it finds a rare spontaneity within the parameters of the screenplay, co-written by Wackerbarth and Hannes Held. Whether the rehearsals are between self-effacing Gerwin (Andreas Lust), who's seen as a runner-up choice to portray Karl, or the conceited veteran Annika (Andrea Sawatzki), who's regarded as a shoe-in for Petra, the film is continually revising the line between performer and character with charmingly awkward, acerbic observations on everything from personal temperament to aesthetics. While it does not retain the same enveloping visual splendor of its source material, Casting is aptly concerned about the rotating cast and crew. Ultimately lingering on a wonderfully wistful note, Wackerbarth (and Fassbinder)'s work earnestly reveals the enticing, transformative nature of their craft. —Grant Phipps