Peter von Kant

Rages and Tears

July 6, 2022By Heidi EllisonFilm
Left to right: Peter (Denis Ménochet), Amir (Khalil Gharbia) and Karl (Stéfan Crépon) in François Ozon’s Peter von Kant.
Left to right: Peter (Denis Ménochet), Amir (Khalil Gharbia) and Karl (Stéfan Crépon) in François Ozon’s Peter von Kant. © Carole Bethuel_Foz

What’s the point of remaking an old film? Not much that I can see in such cases as Gus Van Sant’s word-for-word and shot-for-shot 1998 copy of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. That is not a problem, however, in the stylish new film by France’s boy-wonder (well, he’s 54, but he still looks boyish) director François Ozon, who churns out a film in a different genre or style almost every year. His latest is Peter von Kant, a remake of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1972 movie The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant.

Ozon, a huge fan of Fassbinder (1945-82), has already adapted one of the German theater and film director’s plays for the screen in Gouttes d’Eau sur Pierres Brûlantes (Water Drops on Burning Rocks, 2000).

For Peter von Kant, Ozon has transformed the three main female characters of Fassbinder’s film into men. He bases the sex change, from lesbian women to gay men, on his belief that the main character in Petra von Kant was a self-portrait of Fassbinder, which seems highly likely. For the lead role, he chose an actor, Denis Ménochet, who is practically the German director’s double. To make the point even more clearly, the character Peter von Kant is a successful filmmaker like Fassbinder, not a fashion designer, as in Petra von Kant.

Von Kant lives in Cologne in 1972 with his servant Karl (Stéfan Crépon), who is really more of a slave, doing his sadistic master’s bidding without ever uttering a word. One day, a sexy young man named Amir (Khalil Gharbia) comes into von Kant’s life and is quickly seduced by the filmmaker and soon turned into a star.

Eventually, Amir tires of playing house with von Kant, who is still attended by the stiff and silent Karl, and takes off. The overweight, drug-and-alcohol-abusing director – a kind of charming monster – goes into a tailspin and seems headed for a total breakdown and maybe even the fate of Fassbinder himself, who succumbed to an overdose of cocaine and barbiturates in 1989.

idonie (Isabel Adjani), Rosemarie (Hanna Schygulla) and Gaby (Aminthe Audiard). © Carole Bethuel_Foz
Sidonie (Isabel Adjani), Rosemarie (Hanna Schygulla) and Gaby (Aminthe Audiard) watch as Peter von Kant trashes his apartment. © Carole Bethuel_Foz

Isabel Adjani makes a few rare cameo appearances as the glamorous film star Sidonie, who owes her success to von Kant, and, in a lovely bit of symmetry, the actor Hanna Schygulla, who was close to Fassbinder and played the sexy young love interest in Petra von Kant, appears in this movie as Rosemarie, von Kant’s mother. Aminthe Audiard makes a brief appearance as von Kant’s 14-year-old daughter Gaby.

Ozon wanted to make a film that was more accessible than Fassbinder’s literary and highly theatrical movie, but Peter von Kant is still a stagey piece of work, taking place almost entirely in the main character’s loft-like apartment in Cologne. It pushes the emotional button hard, following Fassbinder, who apparently had just discovered the work of the American melodrama king Douglas Sirk when he made Petra von Kant in 1972.

So, was there a point to this remake, which ends abruptly and inconclusively? Maybe not for the viewer, who might tire of watching von Kant’s rages and tears, but almost certainly for Ozon. Considering his seeming obsession with Fassbinder and the fact that he made the hero of his new film a director, one can’t help but wonder if Peter von Kant is not something of a self-portrait itself.


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