THE BITTER TEARS OF PETRA VON KANT (dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1972, West Germany, Spine #740).
Petra, a high-end fashion designer, falls for the beautiful young Karin and takes her into her home, only to feel abused and rejected when she doesn’t love her back. As Petra will admit by the end, hers is more a story about control than love, or how obsession and possessiveness can lead us to confuse the two. Fassbinder confessed that the dynamics in Petra’s immaculate funhouse of narcissism and self-loathing were autobiographical, and so I was particularly fascinated by the character of Petra’s long-suffering servant Marlene. Marlene never leaves the room and never speaks, taking the brunt of Petra’s whims and temper, or observing the mayhem from the sidelines. When a humbled Petra promises to change her ways and restart their relationship as equals, Marlene packs her bags and gets out of town. YIKES.
Chantal Akerman’s Julie restlessly occupies her room, eating spoonfuls of sugar, sliding her mattress along the floor from one wall to another, and strewing pages and pages of writing around her. A half hour into the movie, she finally ventures outside, catching a ride with a truck driver, and eventually winding up at her estranged girlfriend’s flat. Like in JEANNE DIELMAN, Akerman depicts routine with a mesmerizing and maddening patience; through her long, lingering, unobtrusive shots, the sex scenes are as unaffected as the scenes of buttering toast. Over time, they all reveal the strange behavior we use to get people close–but not too close.
Half a century after this couple let a documentary crew into their home, it is still shocking, even in our era of reality TV, to see how the presence of a camera kicks the unraveling of this marriage into overdrive. For all their frankness and modern sensibilities, their communication breakdown is severe, as the husband applies a superior, rational tone to completely unreasonable positions, until tempers boil over and reveal that logic is simply masking his need for control. Their humiliation at being observed at their worst, but still not being able to stop themselves, is almost unbearable to watch, but their funny and tender moments make their relationship’s doomed course all the more heartbreaking.
It is here
It is there
It is far
It is near
It is low
It is high
Yet all we know is:
This it’s not and That it’s not.
María Alché’s directorial debut about a woman dealing with the loss of her sister is deeply insightful into the ways families try to frame a loved one’s life after they’re gone, and how we reckon with what they’ve left behind.
The Bri-terion Collection
I’m loving the Criterion Channel streaming service, so every week I’m going to share my favorite new find.