Fassbinder, like Sturges, Ford, Almodóvar and many other directors, seems to use the same company of actors over and over again, and part of the pleasure of watching their films is in familiarising oneself with the troupe and revelling in their skill and effectiveness as they play different roles over time. There’s no one I look forward to seeing in Fassbinder’s work more than Irm Hermann, so wonderful as the forceful presence that never speaks in THE BITTER TEARS OF PETRA VON KANT. Like Eve Arden she doesn’t need a big role to make her character felt.
This fourth episode has a twinned structure in that as Jochen (Gottfried John) and Marion (Hannah Schygulla) head to marriage, Harald (Kurt Raab) and Jochen’s sister Monica (Renate Roland) head to divorce. The tenderness, uncertainty and discussion of the first couple is juxtaposed with the patriarchal control, physical violence and lack of communication of the other. Luckily for Monica, she has the support of her female network, and though her mother isn’t very understanding, her grandmother, her aunt and Marion, all help devise a plan to get Harald to agree to a divorce and let her keep their daughter. It’s female solidarity in action.
The other story-lines are a bit clichéi-sh here: will Marion’s mother (Brigitte Mira) approve of Jochen, will they move in to the mother’s apartment or get their own place. Marion and Jochen fight over the wedding itself. He doesn’t want Irmgard (Irm Hermann) to be maid of honour. She’s too stuck up, certain, disapproves of Marion’s marrying a blue-collar worker who gets her hand dirty. Needless to say, and after many. Tears, Marion gets her way. Irmgard’s haughty condescension, her certainty, and the way her convictions melt with liquor and desire at the wedding itself are the episodes’ high point.
The wedding party takes up the last 30 minutes of the 95 minute episode and is a tour de force of staging, keeping up all the various relationships in play, dramatizing their alterations, and playing off social structures against individual desires and circumstances in ways that are easily legible to the viewer. Another marvellous episode, this one with a superb closing shot.
Irm Hermann in action