Remembering Rainer Werner Fassbinder on the
35th anniversary of his death.
In our Monthly Film Series, we will show a variety of GERMAN or GERMAN language films from Germany, Austria and Switzerland. On the 2nd Wednesday of each month, audiences will now have a chance to see these films on a regular basis at the CLINTON STREET THEATER. (Children movies will be playing on Sunday afternoons – please check our website.) All films are with English subtitles.
WED. JUNE 7, 2017 – 7:00 PM
Germany, 1972 – 124 min., color
Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
In the early 1970s, Rainer Werner Fassbinder discovered the American melodramas of Douglas Sirk and was inspired by them to begin working in a new, more intensely emotional register. One of the first and best-loved films of this period in his career is The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, which balances a realistic depiction of tormented romance with staging that remains true to the director’s roots in experimental theater. This unforgettable, unforgiving dissection of the imbalanced relationship between a haughty fashion designer (Margit Carstensen) and a beautiful but icy ingenue (Hanna Schygulla)—based, in a sly gender reversal, on the writer-director’s own desperate obsession with a young actor—is a true Fassbinder affair, featuring exquisitely claustrophobic cinematography by Michael Ballhaus and full-throttle performances by an all-female cast.
Perhaps Fassbinder’s most controversial film — he subtitled it “An Image of Sickness” — The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant was vilified by gay critics when it opened in New York. (Defending it in The Village Voice, Molly Haskell called the film a “tragi-comic love story disguised as a lesbian slumber party in high-camp drag.”) In a huis clos boudoir dominated by white mannequins and a massive Poussin fresco of Midas and Bacchus, three women act out a vicious power struggle to the musical accompaniment of Verdi and The Platters. A successful fashion designer (Margit Carstensen) falls in love with one of her young models (Hanna Schygulla), who does not return her affection; their pas de deux of emotional mastery and submission is monitored by the designer’s mute, obedient “slave girl” (Irm Hermann). The outlandish wigs and ensembles — incarcerating sheath and sequined toga, bullet bodices and bejewelled brassieres, a jumbo red-rose choker — are bested for decadence only by Petra’s immortal take-out order for ten bottles of gin. (The film provides its own tonic.) “Still has no equal in its simultaneous delight in ‘style’ while pouring acid over the image” (David Thomson).