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.

Cinematic Panic: The Melodramatics of Love in R.W. Fassbinder’s ‘The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant’

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