As part of the Test Fashion Film Club; artist Julie Verhoeven co-hosted an evening at Bethnal Green Town Hall Hotel and introduced the German film directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder; The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant. Vogue’s art director Jaime Perlman founded and collates Test; a constantly evolving visual platform of image-led projects showcasing new and established talent across the disciplines of fashion, design, film, art and music. Each month as part of the Test presents programme a co-host is invited to screen a film that has had a profound influence on their work.
The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant tells the story of successful fashion designer Petra and her relationship with the women in her life. The enigmatic Marlene; Petra’s secretary and assistant who she treats with unkindness never utters a word but her presence punctuates the film. We see Petra fall madly in love with the adolescent Karin (an aspiring model) who infatuates her from their first meeting. A scene of seduction plays out asserting Petra’s talents to powerfully master those around her and get whatever she wants. However in the next cut, which shows their break up six months after, a seismic shift has occurred with Karin controlling Petra’s mental state with her every word and action. Petra is reduced to a weak and vulnerable being desperately craving the reciprocity of her love for Karin. When Karin leaves her we see the complete breakdown of Petra’s tortured soul and we are left exhausted by the brutal scenes of her anguish.
Julie Verhoeven first saw the film in 2003 and was astounded that she had not seen it before, thereafter becoming obsessed with it. She introduced it on Thursday describing it as “super duper stylish yet dark and bleak” and explained how she felt drained but gripped after watching it, feeling a strong desire to strive to project that level of emotion in her own work.
The film is visually arresting with deep focus shots framing the fantastically styled set and all female cast. As Julie puts it the seventies style outfits are “wonderfully wrong”. Thick make-up, colourful wigs and eerie mannequins all play their part with an enlarged painting of Poussin’s 17th century master piece Midas and Bacchus as an evocative backdrop. Set in Petra’s apartment with the entire narrative playing out in just one room the beams, shelves and furniture are often framed to look like bars creating a sense of imprisonment. This heightens the intensity of the raw emotions displayed in the story which illustrates love’s entrapment and cruelty.
The film really stays with you both for it’s striking style and it’s wrenching emotions. If you haven’t watched it then do.