Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant was my introduction to Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and it was an introduction long time coming. I've always been intrigued by the covers in video stores of beautiful pained women and the titles like Beware of a Holy Whore and Ali: Fear Eats the Soul. Still, I hesitated for years to watch one of his films, but once most were available to me on netflix on demand, I no longer had any excuse.
I've learned that the controversial director with a complex personal life (check out the drama on his wikipedia profile) has a certain style of directing which equals twenty five minute scenes of people talking. It may sound trying, but because the characters are talking about the gossip of their lives as their relationships rise and fall apart, and the acting is so superb, the visuals so stunning – it's riveting.
Fashion wise, the film is beyond incredibly inspiring. See a collection of stills here and long for theatrical wigs and makeup, intricate dense beading, and wild necklines. Petra's apartment bedroom/workspace too,?in which the entire film takes place will haunt your aesthetic dreams. A fully covered floor with white bear skin? I've certainly heard worse ideas.
Even if the setting is stunning, the limited scope gives a claustrophobic portrait of a manic woman locked in her own mind and world with little interaction with reality. It's hard to interpret who you are meant to have sympathy for, if anyone at all. Even Marlene (played by Irm Hermann, once Fassbinder's lover and victim of abuse), the movie's most beaten down and enigmatic (especially when we learn she's been packing heat the whole time) is not wanting for your pity.
It's a slow and challenging movie if you're not in the right frame of mind but it's a rewarding and haunting experience. My curiosity to see more of his prolific career has been piqued.