The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant

The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant ★★★★★

Yeah, okay, Fassbinder really did hit his stride once he decided he wanted to work with melodrama. The nihilism in The American Soldier is a lot of what I liked about it, but in this movie the same degree of nihilism serves a more pointed end and that lifts it to superior heights.

Also the acting is better. The movie wouldn't work if any of the three leads weren't capable of holding our attention. (Has there ever been a lead with as little dialogue as Marlene?)

The cinematography is as lush as anything Wong Kar-wai and Christopher Doyle ever did. Circling back to the actors and adding in the costume design: all of this brings the huge Baroque Midas and Bacchus down off the wall and extends it into the third dimension of Petra's claustrophobic living space. Visually stunning in a way I didn't expect after the black and white noir of The American Soldier.

I'm not entirely sure what to make of the fact that I've fallen for both Agnès Varda and Rainer Werner Fassbinder this year. One's a supremely human empath who worked for her entire long lifetime, and one's a monster who died young. I don't think you can be as scathing as Fassbinder without really understanding humans, though -- Petra's pain isn't defined by Fassbinder's scorn, it's created by his understanding. His empathy just led him to really different places.

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