“Discipline’s okay as long as you’re having fun.”
Based upon Fassbinder’s own play, Bitter Tears very much retains its theatrical origins: it’s neatly divided into “acts”, and all takes place within the strategically claustrophobic quarters of Petra’s apartment. This works just fine throughout the first “act”, when viewers are sure to be intrigued (if nothing else) by the direction Fassbinder is taking us in. But by the time the story’s central thesis is finally established — that Petra’s obsession with “owning” Karin will be her undoing — we’ve become a little weary of the film’s slow pacing and patently artificial staging. Fassbinder constructs his film as an elaborate homage to Douglas Sirk’s colorful mid-century melodramas, with a decidedly perverse bent: his lead characters (all female) inhabit a world of outlandishly baroque outfits (complete with wigs and garish make-up) and surreal sets populated by strategically framed female mannequins and an over-sized reproduction of Nicolas Poussin’s 1629 painting “Midas and Bacchus” dominating one of the walls of Petra’s home. It’s all visually arresting, but eventually not compelling enough to keep us invested in watching “poor” Petra’s downward spiral. With that said, Bitter Tears is the kind of dense, wordy film that lends itself to academic deconstruction — so if you’re up for this type of intellectual challenge, definitely check it out (and be sure to read Jonathan Rosenbaum’s critical essay).
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)