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The Bitter Tears Of Petra Von Kant (free)

  • Chazen Museum of Art 750 University Avenue Madison, WI, 53706 United States (map)

One of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's most enduring and personal films. Info

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One of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's first films to draw influence from the melodramas of Douglas Sirk, 1972's The Bitter Tears Of Petra Von Kant is a theatrical, claustrophobic look into Fassbinder's own relationships. Fassbinder subverts the conventions of Sirk's 1950s "women's pictures" by infusing them with his own open homosexuality and leftist class-consciousness. The film is set entirely in the cluttered, ornate bedroom of the title character. Petra Von Kant (Margit Carstensen) is a fashion designer, but spends most of her time lounging in bed sadistically ordering around her silently suffering assistant Marlene (Irm Hermann). Petra becomes infatuated with lower-class aspiring model Karin (Hanna Schygulla), but when Karin returns to her husband, Von Kant self-destructs into gin-fueled self-hatred, lashing out at everyone around her. It's easy to see Von Kant as a reflection of the legendarily cruel Fassbinder, who based the story on his own tumultuous relationship with frequent collaborator Günther Kaufmann.

Desiring the look of a lush Hollywood film on a German art film budget, Fassbinder and cinematographer Michael Ballhaus used slow tracking shots and heavy visual symbolism to make up for the lack of big-budget spectacle. Much as Sirk's films are driven by the symbolic power of objects, Von Kant's rooms are filled with human forms; with dolls, mannequins and a reproduction of Poussin's Midas And Bacchus filling the wall behind the characters. Fassbinder also borrows Sirk's use of mirrors and frames-within-frames, a visual theme he would develop further in subsequent films. The Bitter Tears Of Petra Von Kant also features some of Fassbinder's most brilliant uses of popular music, as Von Kant's heartbreak is expressed mise-en-scene by melodramatic records by The Platters and The Walker Brothers. Although slow and stagey, The Bitter Tears Of Petra Von Kant is one of Fassbinder's most enduring and personal films. —Ian Adcock

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