Minimalist, austere, cruel yet astonishingly stunning, The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant is a chamber drama at its finest. Fassbinder once said, “I don’t believe that melodramatic feelings are laughable—they should be taken absolutely seriously.” And although filled with melodramatic emotions and histrionics, the film still echoes the emotions of the confounding nature of being consumed by another. Unfolding in five elongated scenes, we meet Petra, a successful semi-alcoholic fashion designer. She is frail and pale, skeletally thin. There’s an erotic Egon Schiele-like pain to her boney frame, and although she never leaves her bedroom, she dons a multitude of wigs and lavish ensembles that bring her to life. These outfits and costumes act as a facade to her decaying form. Without them, as we see her in the opening of the film—wearing just a white sleeping dress, hair held back without a stitch of makeup—she is the physical manifestation of angst, longing, and pain.
Effi Briest, or many people are aware of their own capabilities and needs, yet acquiesce to the prevailing system in their thoughts and deeds, thereby confirming and reinforcing the system.
Effie Briest, Rainer Werner Fassbinder 1974
You know, I think that movies are a conspiracy…because they set you up…They set you up from the time you’re a little kid. They set you up to believe in everything…in ideals and strength and good guys and romance and, of course, love…So you go out, you start looking. Doesn’t happen, you keep looking. You get a job and you spend a lot of time fixing up things, your apartment and jazz. And you learn how to be feminine, you know, quotes: “feminine”? You learn how to cook…But there’s no Charles Boyer in my life. I never even met a Charles Boyer. I never met Clark Gable. I never met Humphrey Bogart…I mean, they don’t exist, that’s the truth. But the movies set you up and no matter how bright you are, you believe it.
Minnie and Moskowitz, John Cassavetes 1971