It’s five days before shooting a made-for-TV remake of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s The Bitter Tears Of Petra Von Kant and script reader, Gerwin (Andreas Lust) is helping audition the lead. Vera, the director (Judith Engel) is under immense pressure as this is her first television film project but can’t agree on a female star for the role. Everybody else on set is trying desperately to be professional and hold everything together. But the clock is ticking.
It all starts with a difficult, yet entirely capable actress arriving for her audition. She is fastidious and prickly in how she talks to the makeup artist. Her brief interactions and subsequent dismissal from the film set the tone for what follows. In the hands of a different filmmaker, Casting could have been a cringe-comedy in the style of Lars von Trier’s The Boss of It All. Instead, the audience is pulled through awkward interactions compounded by the nervousness and pressure of getting this adaptation just so.
Writer/ Director Nicolas Wackerbarth does something rather extraordinary with Casting. Its metatextual approach to Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s play-turned-film is an exercise in discomfort and will have you writhing in your chair. Framing the scenario as pre-production for a TV Movie remake slathers on additional layers of tension and barbed dialogue as the power-play between character dynamics shifts between the filmmakers and crew.
The claustrophobia, manipulation, loneliness and abuse of power ever-present in RWF’s 1972 film remain but they are recontextualised and framed with a cast of both female and male performers, while the original utilised an all-female ensemble. This is noted upon in the film, discussing how it would be handled in the television movie they will eventually shoot. It’s a moment that hangs a lantern on what we the audience is observing and is just one example of the many ways in which the filmmakers play with their cinematic re-articulation.
With the key shift in including male and female actors, the LGBTQ focus is also re-aligned, with Lust’s Gerwin having to lie about aspects of his own sexuality to potentially land a role. Wackerbath (and co-writer Hannes Held) plays with the female gaze, using sexual attraction as yet another tool of control, subverted and weaponised against the audition reader. Gerwin manages to seed himself deep within the pre-production process, ingratiating himself with various departments in order to seize his opportunity. The cycle of flattery and misdirection playing out between he and Vera, the director is incredibly well balanced. Both actors imbue their characters with believable dimensionality that you want them both to succeed, regardless of their flaws.
While there is nervous humour to be mined from the near-unbearable tension, there are scenes when the tone shifts to a passive-aggressive workplace horror. Casting isn’t as playful as some of RWF’s works but makes for an excellent companion to The Bitter Tears Of Petra Von Kant. However, the deftly handled dialogue and relatable performances mean that you don’t have to be versed in the original to appreciate what Nicolas Wackerbath has created.
It’s no small feat to have made a film that holds its own as both a pseudo-remake and an original piece in its own right. Squirming my way through Casting has me intrigued by Wackerbath’s previous film, Everyday Objects and getting back onto previously unseen films from Fassbinder’s filmography. Casting is available now on digital and it’s a huge recommend from me.
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