François Ozon’s punchy Peter Von Kant arrives at the French Film Festival UK, paying homage to the world of German filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder and his seminal arthouse classic The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant – a feature based on his own theatrical work. Twisting Fassbinder’s all female original, Ozon switches the protagonist’s gender and splices biographical elements inspired from Fassbinder’s own life into the narrative work.
Peter Von Kant (Denis Ménochet) is a successful filmmaker, living with his near-mute maltreated assistant Karl (Stefan Crepon). Through his former muse, actress Sidonie (a sublime Isabelle Adjani), Peter meets and falls in love with Amir (stellar newcomer Khalil Ben Gharbia) whom he shares a tumultuous relationship with. The increasingly dependent Peter begins to feel a growing isolation as Amir’s star power rises and Amir’s distraction by new partners.
Retaining the sensibilities of Fassbinder’s original narrative and play structure, Peter Von Kant is predominantly set within the filmmaker’s plush period-style apartment with cinematographer Manuel Dacosse capturing it as a plush and expansive space, yet retaining the intimacy of stage work. Ozon gives us a glimpse into the closed-off bubble of Peter’s world – in centring proceedings in Peter’s home, the filmmaker gives us a stripped back and intimate insight into his psyche, his insecurities, and his passions.
Peter gains a sense of passion and excitement in the arrival of Amir – haunted by family tragedy, the naïve Amir charms Peter with his visceral emotion (the filmmaker screen-testing the young actor as he discloses his devastating backstory) and handsome youthful looks. Their relationship is cemented in seductive romantic routine to The Walker Brothers’ In My Room in which a naked Amir dances with Peter. Prior to his meeting with Amir, Peter shares his past with lover the domineering, borderline abusive Franz – a relationship ultimately broken down and concluded due to the shame it invoked. This dynamic is introduced into Peter Von Kant, as Ozon shifts proceedings to nine months in the future where Amir is now a star, seeing other men and driving Peter to insanity with tales of his infidelity.
Ozon evokes strong performances from his stars as the emotional battleground takes shape. Denis Ménochet’s Peter is an emotionally volatile presence – increasingly dependent on his lover and torn apart by jealousy, yet somehow enthralled by the cruel indifference exerted by Amir. Ménochet mirrors elements of Fassbinder’s physicality with his performance impressively sitting alongside Oliver Masucci’s in previous recent biopic Enfant Terrible. Khalil Ben Gharbia gives us an insight into the complex emotions of Amir, transitioning from a position of vulnerability and dependence to one of the dominant figure in a relationship. Amir’s ego grows as his star rises and he begins to see himself as confident sexual being, whilst suppressing that of his partner in a masochistic power play.
Unlike Fassbinder’s original, Ozon’s cast has a mix of male and female performers and thankfully so as Peter Von Kant contains a truly mesmerising turn from Isabelle Adjani. Taking the role of Sidonie, Peter’s former muse, Adjani brings a steely glamour and charisma to the conceited star clawing at her chance of a comeback. The actress contributes a sharp campy humour, particularly in her interactions with Peter’s whining daughter who appears in the final act. Further connection to Fassbinder’s original comes in the form of Hanna Schygulla as Rosemarie. The actress and star of The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant takes the role of Peter’s mother, shining with a poignant turn in the film’s conclusion.
Peter Von Kant is a sparky, enthralling spin on a Fassbinder classic that injects a sharp gender-swapped queer spin on the tale. Rich performances from the film’s cast and Ozon’s direction of the emotional gymnastics at play ensures that Peter Von Kant is yet another gem in the filmmaker’s filmography.