Berlinale Blog – Casting Petra von Kant

     |    Saturday, der 11. February 2017

By Andrew Horn

Just as Jimi Hendrix can claim the honor of having released way more albums dead than alive, this year’s Berlinale seems to be a veritable bonanza for the late R.W. Fassbinder. We have his “Acht Stunden sind ein Tag” (8 Hours Don’t Make A Day) in Berlinale Special, “Welt am Draht” (World On A Wire) in the Retrospective, and even a film staring Fassbinder, Wolf Gremm’s “Kamikaze ‘89″, also Retrospective.

But for these who’d like their Fassbinder more au courant, we also have Nicolas Wackerbarth’s “Casting” (Germany), iscreening n the Forum section, which tells the story of Vera, a harried director desperately trying to find the perfect cast for her debut TV film, a remake of RWF’s 1972 classic “Die bitteren Tränen der Petra von Kant” (The Bitter Tears Of Petra von Kant).

Now the question of why any sane person (or you might also qualify that as any sane straight person) would ever want to attempt a remake of a Fassbinder movie – never mind that one – is beyond me. And lucky for us, the audience, one could say that the humor of this situation is not exactly lost on Mr. Wackerbarth, who, by the way, was barely gestating in his mother’s womb when Petra von Kant came out.

Back then the real Fassbinder had his own orbiting gang of actors, lovers, friends and hangers-on who filled his various roles, so ironically he probably never experienced the indecision infecting poor Vera as she sifts through her parade of Petra’s, none of whom, despite their various looks, character, attitude and star power, quite seem to fill some expectation that she can’t quite articulate.

Gerwin (Andreas Lust) with Luise Maderer (Corinna Kirchhoff)

As their start date looms closer, the producer is getting angry, the casting director is getting fired, and the crew is getting bored and frustrated. The one person starting to enjoy himself is Gerwin, a construction contractor who initially came in for a day as a favor, to read with the auditioning actresses as a stand-in for the male lead. But in fact, he is the only one getting called back and the more he reads, the more he’s starting to inhabit the part he’s only supposed to be standing in for. As time passes, he becomes the one constant in the churning emotional chaos of the set and starts to acquire more and more power, until he winds up cast in the co-starring role and now they’re all depending on him to help with decision-making.

And now we find ourselves sinking into those “murkey depths of human relationships, driven by power, passion and desperation” which is exactly what the real Petra von Kant is all about. Wackenbarth, while not attempting to drive emotions to the high-level histrionics of the original, may have actually succeed, in his own wry way, and with a nice sharp dose of engaging wit, in sneakily slipping us his own version of the very movie his characters are struggling to make.

Addendum: maybe it’s me, but isn’t this film also kind of playing off the on-set crisis of Fassbinder’s own film-within-a-film, “Warnung vor einer heiligen Nutte” (Beware Of A Holy Whore)? Are we actually getting a conceptual twofer here? And what’s the matter with that?