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Film / The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant

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The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (German: Die bitteren Tränen der Petra von Kant) is a 1972 film directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, starring Margit Carstensen, Irm Hermann, and Hanna Schygulla. It is based on the play of the same name written by Fassbinder.

Petra von Kant (Carstensen) is a successful fashion designer who in the past was abused by her husband. She has a daughter who is educated in the boarding school. Petra also employs Marlene (Hermann), a servant who is completely mute and constantly mistreated by Petra. Petra meets the much younger Karin (Schygulla) and they start a relationship. After some time it turns out that Karin doesn't love her. Petra has a nervous breakdown insulting her mother, sister and daughter whom she maintains. In the end Petra and Karin reach a reconciliation of sorts, but Karin still leaves. Petra behaves kindly to Marlene for the first time and the servant at once starts to pack her bags.


  • All Love Is Unrequited: First Marlene loves Petra, but Petra doesn't love her. Then Petra loves Karin, but Karin doesn't love Petra. Finally Petra tells Marlene that she loves her, but Marlene is no longer interested.
  • Anti-Hero: Petra
  • Author Avatar: Petra von Kant, who stood for Fassbinder himself both in the play and in the film.
  • Beauty Inversion: Margit Carstensen was only 32 when the film was made and very attractive, but her ugly wigs and pale makeup make her look older and more haggard.
  • Black Is Bigger in Bed: When Petra demands to know where Karin spent the night, and Karin tells her that she spent the night with a man, and Petra asks what sort of man, Karin replies "Ein großes schwarzes Mann mit ein großes schwarzes Schwanz."note 
  • Butt-Monkey: Marlene
  • Character Title
  • Chromosome Casting: Only women act in this film. Men are mentioned but never appear onscreen.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Petra is prone to jealousy. In the scene of her suffering she also wears a green dress.
  • Important Hair Accessory: Petra's series of extravagant wigs, which she leaves off in the final act as a sign that she's willing to be more honest with herself and others. Not that it gets her anywhere.
  • Meal Ticket: Aside from whatever feelings she might have for Petra, it's clear that Karin is all too happy of living at Petra's expenses and using her to launch her modeling career. It's worth noting that she dumps Petra to reunite with her husband after she gets her photo published in a magazine, cementing her notoriety.
  • Mood Whiplash: Actually, Petra has quite a few of them.
  • No Bisexuals: Averted, Karin is married to a man and has sex with another man while she's technically in a relationship with Petra.
    • Petra might qualify too, as she has gone through two marriages to men (first as a widow, then more recently as a divorcee).
  • Psycho Lesbian: Petra turns into one when Karin rejects her.
  • This Is Unforgivable!: Karin to Petra after Petra spits in her face. Karin then immediately asks Petra for money.
  • The Voiceless: Marlene. She rebels in the last scene.
  • Younger Than They Look: The age difference between Carstensen and Schygulla is less than 4 years. However, here Schygulla plays a bright young thing. She was over 30 when she acted in this film.
    • Carstensen herself was only 32 when she played Petra, but her wigs and makeup make her look ten years older.