Wednesday, December 2, 2015

#740: The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant

(Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1972)

The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant is a master class in filmmaking and film loving alike. Fassbinder and his cinematographer Michael Ballhaus (who went on the work with Scorsese on two of his most beautiful films, The Last Temptation of Christ and Goodfellas) use every opportunity within the walled world of the story to display their cinematic technique. It saves the film from the drudgery of some of Fassbinder's most difficult films, and while this is by no means an easy watch, by the end I rather enjoyed it and would put it on the upper end of the Fassbinder films I've seen to date.

The stated influence on the film is Douglas Sirk, but the director I was reminded of most often was Bergman, whose similar background in modern theater helped him produce many of his 60s masterpieces, and the comparison to Persona is hard to avoid. In fact, as you would expect after viewing the film, Fassbinder originally produced it as a play. Both the story of the film and the direction of the acting also called to mind another European master, Carl Dreyer, and his final film, the singular Gertrud, where another independently minded woman is bogged down by romantic entanglements and the inability of anyone in her universe to look at another person while talking.

But the cinematic style on display overwhelms the theatricality of the performances, particularly after the slow first act of the film before Karin is introduced. Once the conflict kicks in, the camera swoops and glides, and the blocking becomes so precise and artful, that the modernity of Fassbinder's eye takes over. It's also impossible to avoid talking about the impeccable use of music, which rivals and perhaps even bests the strongest of subsequent filmmakers in this regard like Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson. Even as the story becomes more interesting, it's these moments behind the camera that gripped me. The movie is stunningly beautiful and might be even more enjoyable on mute, but the moments when the film and music line up and hit the perfect emotional note are the ones where you know you are in the hands of a rare kind of filmmaker.

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