Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Cast: Margit Carstensen, Hanna Schygulla, Irm Hermann, Eva Mattes
Length: 125 min
Release Date: Jan 13, 2015
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Audio: German: LPCM Mono
Subtitles: English (optional)
- New 4K digital restoration, supervised by director of photography Michael Ballhaus, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
- New interviews with Ballhaus and actors Margit Carstensen, Eva Mattes, Katrin Schaake, and Hanna Schygulla
- New interview with film scholar Jane Shattuc
- Role Play: Women on Fassbinder, a 1992 German television documentary by Thomas Honickel featuring interviews with Carstensen, Schygulla, and actors Irm Hermann and Rosel Zech
- New English subtitle translation
- An essay by critic Peter Matthews
Following the recent release of Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, The Criterion Collection have released Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, newly re-mastered on Blu-Ray, in, what many hope will signal a wave in many more Fassbinder films to come. In a career that lasted just short of fifteen years, Fassbinder became inarguably one of the most important filmmakers in German history. For this, his thirteenth film, he adapted from one of his own stage plays, and it represents the beginning of his four-year foray into melodrama having ‘left’ the dominion of the German avant-garde.
Later in his career, Fassbinder films became known for their frenetic, creative energy and pacing. As an actor, he often played characters (ostensibly based on himself) that confronted their own emotional nakedness on screen. Characterized as the ‘enfant terrible’ of new German cinema, Fassbinder fed off the interplay between his personal life and his films. His roles in Fox and Friends (1975) and Germany in Autumn (1978) stood as grave indictments of man’s own self-abuses, his loses, the glory of his self-righteousness, and the despicability of his actions. One hates these characters just as much as you pity them. As a result, Fassbinder’s thematic style strikes a nerve that feels visceral, primal, gritty, and very real. The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant is no different.
For Fassbinder, man is often responsible for his own victimization. The film examines the omnipresence of dominance and power dynamics that is universal to all intimate human relationships, be they hetero or homosexual. Having left her husband some time ago, fashion designer Petra Von Kant (Margit Carstensen) involves herself in an abusive S&M relationship with her quiet assistant Marlene (Irm Hermann). Petra lives very cloistered, in a world consisting mostly inside the walls of her ornate and byzantine boudoir peppered with mannequins and textiles. Soon Petra finds herself ensnared in an unrequited relationship with Karin (Hanna Schygulla), a working class girl and aspiring model. Hopelessly in love, Karin’s exploitation of Petra mirrors the latters abuse of Marlene. In the end, the ‘love triangle’ of sorts ends in utter heartbreak for Petra as neither Karin nor Marlene welcome her affections.The ‘slow burn’ approach to this revelation hits extremely hard. The scene where Marlene leaves Petra in the end, having satisfied her masochistic urges, is particularly powerful and crescendos perfectly as an appropriate melodrama should. Nevertheless, what makes this even more effective is upon the reflection of how dreamlike and unrealistic Petra’s world had become. She truly existed in a fantasy world of her own creation. The dissolution of her triad marked an awakening from this world into the harsh loneliness of her reality.
The new 4k restoration from the original camera negative of The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, undertaken by the Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation, and supervised by cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, presents the film in a spectacular new light. The incredible color saturation and clarity bring back the beautiful earthy glow of the Agfa film stock that Ballhaus used. Film grain looks wholly natural, and there are no signs of DNR, or edge sharpening whatsoever. Undoubtedly, this is the best this film has ever looked on home video, and probably the best that it will ever look.
Only the original German mono track is provided in this release, and it sounds very natural, with plenty of ambiance, yet the dialog is crystal clear and easy to follow. There no audible flaws or distortion of any kind that were not inherited from the original recording. Optional English subtitles are provided.
Having supervised this restoration from the original camera negative, cinematographer Michael Ballhaus also contributed interviews alongside film scholar and lifelong Fassbinder expert Jane Shattuc. The featurette “Outsiders” also includes interviews by actors Margit Carstensen, Eva Mattes, Katrin Schaake, and Hanna Schygulla. They provide plenty of fascinating background information on the play, as well as on Fassbinder’s creative process and working methods. The special features also include Role Play: Women on Fassbinder, a 1992 German television documentary with additional interviews of Irm Hermann and Rosel Zech tackling Fassbinder’s self-referential style. Rounding out these extras, Peter Matthews essay contextualizes The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant as a quintessential Fassbinder-esque melodramatic romp through the impulsivity of self, the futility of love, and the violence and power so accompanied by loneliness in the modern era.
In many ways, Fassbinder remains a director still ahead of his time. This is largely because he remains such an enigmatic figure. Just as he lambasts the German bourgeoisie, he engrosses himself in their values to speak to greater truths. While The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant works as a melodrama on its surface, it is drenched with a coded pessimistic message. Interpersonal relationships, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, have a power dynamic that is itself a tragedy. Not a failure, but an intrinsic flaw that is sure to leave many unsatisfied by the notion of ‘real and true love.’ This sorrowful reality coupled with the film’s trancelike pacing captivates its audience just as much as it alienates, a move typical of a man whose films are as astonishing and infuriating as the life he led.