The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant – The Criterion Collection #740 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

January 24, 2015 by  


“The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant” is complex, smart and yet brilliantly made that it was a film that was ahead of its time.  And for those who loved the film will love the 4K restoration that this film has received on Blu-ray!  A wonderful release from the Criterion Collection!

Image courtesy of © 2014 Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation. 2015 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant – The Criterion Collection #740


DURATION: 125 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:37:1 aspect ratio, Color, German Monaural LPCM 1.0, Subtitles: English


RELEASE DATE: January 13, 2015

Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Play and Screenplay by Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Produced by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Michael Fengler

Cinematography by Michael Ballhaus

Edited by Thea Eymesz

Production by Kurt Raab

Costume Design by Maja Lemcke


Margit Carstensen as Petra von Kant

Hanna Schygulla as Karin Thimm

Katrin Schaake as Sidonie von Grasenabb

Eva Mattes as Gabriele von Kant

Gisela Fackeldey as Valerie von Kant

Irm Hermann as Marlene

In the early 1970s, Rainer Werner Fassbinder discovered the American melodramas of Douglas Sirk and was inspired by them to begin working in a new, more intensely emotional register. One of the first and best-loved films of this period in his career is The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, which balances a realistic depiction of tormented romance with staging that remains true to the director’s roots in experimental theater. This unforgettable, unforgiving dissection of the imbalanced relationship between a haughty fashion designer (Margit Carstensen) and a beautiful but icy ingenue (Hanna Schygulla)—based, in a sly gender reversal, on the writer-director’s own desperate obsession with a young actor—is a true Fassbinder affair, featuring exquisitely claustrophobic cinematography by Michael Ballhaus and full-throttle performances by an all-female cast.


From legendary German filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder (“The Marriage of Maria Braun”, “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul”, “Lili Marleen”) comes the Criterion Collection Blu-ray release of “The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant”.

Considered one of the highlights of Fassbinder’s oeuvre, “The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant” was also written by the filmmaker and shot in ten days.

The film would eventually be made into a play and also a modernist opera, but will forever be remembered for its performances by actress Margit Carstensen (“Posession”, “Martha”, “Fear of Fear”) and its claustrophobic style of filmmaking as the film is primarily shot in Petra’s apartment.

The film is set in Bremen, Germany and prominent fashion designer Petra von Kant is seen lying in bed.  She is often assisted by her assistant Marlene (portrayed by Irm Hermann), who she treats very coldly, as if she was like a slave to her.

We learn from Petra that she has been married twice.  Her first marriage was Pierre, who died in a car accident while she was pregnant with her daughter.  Her second marriage started off well but ended with her being disgusted by him.

Her cousin Sidonie von Grasenabb (portrayed by Katrin Schaake) arrives and tells Petra about her relationship with a man that has gotten better, and it turns Petra off.  Sidonie then brings her friend Karin (portrayed by Hanna Schygulla), a woman who returned to Germany after staying in Sydney.

Her beauty captivates Petra and immediately Petra tells Karin to become an actress.  The more Karin comes back, Petra starts to fall for her, while Marlene shows possible concern and jealousy of Karin coming over to the apartment often.

But what happens to Petra as she becomes more infatuated with Karin?



“The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant – The Criterion Collection #740” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:37:1 aspect ratio) and features a 4K restoration. Picture quality for the film is fantastic as the 4K restoration brings out the clarity of the film. Colors and clarity look much better in HD compared to any previously released DVD version.  Grain is well-presented throughout the film and I saw no problems with artifacts or any other issues with the film.

According to the Criterion Collection, “Supervised by director of photography Michael Ballhaus and produced by the Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation, this new digital transfer was created in 4K resolution on an ARRISCAN film scanner from the original camera negative at ARRI Film & TV in Munich, where the film was also restored.”


As for audio, “The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant – The Criterion Collection #740” is presented in English LPCM 1.0. The monaural lossless soundtrack is clear with no sign of hiss, crackle or any popping.

According to the Criterion Collection, “The original monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from a 17.5mm magnetic soundtrack. Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum, and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD, AudioCube’s integrated workstation, and iZotope RX4.”

Subtitles are in English SDH.


“The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant – The Criterion Collection #740” comes with the following special features:

  • Outsiders – (30:16) A 2014 documentary featuring Margit Carstensen, Eva Mattes, Katrin Schaake and Hanna Schygulla discussing their experience of working with director Rainer Werner Fassbinder and filming “The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant”.
  • Michael Ballhaus – (7:04) A 2014 interview featuring cinematographer Michael Ballhaus discussing his working relationship with Rainer Werner Fassbinder.
  • Jane Shattuc – (23:09) Interview with Jane Shattuc, professor of visual media arts at Emerson College and author of “Tabloids, and Tears: Fassbinder and Popular Culture”.
  • Role Play: Women on Fassbinder – (58:44) A 1992 documentary directed by Thomas Honickel of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s working relationship with women.  Featuring interviews with Margit Carstensen, Irm Hermann, Hanna Schygulla and Rosel Zech.


“The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant – The Criterion Collection #740” comes with a poster-sized insert with the essay “The Great Pretender” by Peter Matthews.


When “The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant” was released back in 1972, the film generated mixed reviews.  May it be the sexual freedom of showcasing lesbian love to a film that does not provide your straightforward, simplistic Hollywood ending, there is no doubt that Werner Rainer Fassbinder’s film was fascinating.

There was no doubt that Rainer Werner Fassbinder demanded the best from his actresses (and was rather unfriendly with them but supportive of them as actresses) and he was widely criticized for his portrayal of women.

And the women we see in “The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant” are quite fascinating in the fact that the portrayal of the primary three characters were taken in differently via many critics who were supportive or disliked film with passion.

The main character Petra von Kant is a character who is spoiled, blunt, cold, loving, arrogant and in many ways, she is the wealthy character that cares about no one but herself.  The assistant Marlene is a character that is silent, no doubt she is in love with Petra despite being treated as a slave.  And this connection between both women is the S&M connection that many people hear about this film.  One who dishes the pain, one who enjoys it.

And the third primary character being Karin Thimm, the woman who is blunt, knows that she can reel in Petra but also get what she wants from her.   Anything to propel herself to become a model.  And yes, she can be seen as a golddigger.

Three independent women and watching as the might Petra von Kant slowly is broken by the beautiful Karin due to her obsession.

Is the film oppressive towards women?  Or is there something about this story that Rainer Werner Fassbinder wanted to tap into?

Fassbinder was asked and his reply was “I find women more interesting. They don’t interest me just because they’re oppressed — it’s not that simple. The societal conflicts in women are more interesting because on the one hand women are oppressed, but in my opinion they also provoke this oppression as a result of their position in society, and in turn use it as a terror tactic.”

“The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant” is no doubt one of his films that many will want to watch over and over.  It’s an intriguing film but it’s also a film that demands one to watch and understand the high and the lows of Petra von Kant?  Is it merely love turned to obsession that slowly corrupts her?  Or is Karin complicit of using her beauty and sexuality to bring her down?

No doubt, Rainer Werner Fassbinder films always make for wonderful cinematic discussions and debates.

Especially when I wonder if the character of Marlene was responsible for the success of Petra?  Because it seems that she is doing mostly all the work, while Petra von Kant wallows in emptiness of a past and present that leaves her unfulfilled, narcissistic and bitter.

As for the Blu-ray, this is the best version of “The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant” that I have watched so far.  Picture quality shows better colors and improved clarity that seeing the women in front of the huge reproduction of Poussin’s “Midas and Bacchus” is stylish but also adding to the murkiness of the film’s presentation.

The film looks so much better in HD that it is the definitive version to own!  The monaural lossless soundtrack is clear with no crackle, while the special features are rather intriguing as the talent and even the cinematographer give us a perspective of how their lives were working with the demanding Fassbinder.  But how much as a filmmaker, he has touched and left an impression long after his death.

“The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant” is complex, smart and yet brilliantly made that it was a film that was ahead of its time.  And for those who loved the film will love the 4K restoration that this film has received on Blu-ray!  A wonderful release from the Criterion Collection!

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