Peter von Kant (2022) ☆☆☆(3/4): Fassbinder via Ozon

François Ozon’s new film “Peter von Kant” is often amusing to watch if you are familiar with not only its original version but also the legendary German filmmaker behind that version. The movie, based on Reiner Werner Fassbinder’s “The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant” (1972), is mostly faithful to the original version except a few things to notice, and this relatively more direct remake version will probably entertain you more as often resonating with Fassbinder’s messy and tumultuous personal life.

Like the 1972 film, the movie is mainly set in the residence/workplace of its central character, but there are some significant differences in terms of character. In contrast to the titular lesbian fashion designer heroine of the 1972 film, Ozon’s screenplay has a gay filmmaker named Peter von Kant (Denis Ménochet) as its central character, and, not so surprisingly, von Kant’s appearance and attire in the film evoke a lot of Fassbinder’s public images right from the beginning.

Nonetheless, the basic narrative of the film is not so far from the original version on the whole. During the opening part of the film, we observe what an incorrigibly self-absorbed guy von Kant is – and how callous he is often to his mostly silent secretary Karl (Stéfan Crépon), who is always ready to serve his frequently abusive employer mainly because of some loyalty or affection toward him. When his former leading actress/best heterosexual female friend Sidonie (Isabelle Adjani) visits his residence later, von Kant rambles a lot about his latest failed romantic relationship, and Sidonie patiently listens to him for a while before introducing him to a young handsome lad named Amir (Khalil Gharbia).

Because he is eager to start his movie acting career, Amir actively approaches to von Kant, and von Kant does not mind this at all as quickly getting himself infatuated with Amir. Several months later, they are now living together as lovers, and everything seems to be going fairly well for both of them on the surface, but, of course, we soon see the rapid deterioration of their relationship due to not only von Kant’s possessive aspects but also Amir’s selfishness. While von Kant frequently craves for more of affection from Amir, Amir looks more occupied with himself, and this aspect of his becomes more apparent when he demands more benefit and freedom in their relationship.

I happened to see the 1972 film not long after watching “Peter von Kant”, and I wondered how much Fassbinder actually saw himself from the heroine of his movie. Like his heroine, he was often emotionally unstable and volatile in real life, and many of his personal relationships were pretty problematic to say the least. While Fassbinder was certainly not a nice dude at all, many of male lovers in his life were quite crummy guys who usually broke his heart, and that aspect looks much more evident in Ozon’s version. For incident, Amir’s surname is ben Salem, and that is surely a nod to El Hedi ben Salem, who was one of Fassbinder’s more notorious lovers and also appeared in Fassbinder’s several works including “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul” (1974).

As observing how von Kant lets Amir willfully exploit his romantic obsession toward Amir, you may also be reminded of how Fassbinder was hopelessly in love with a hunky black German actor named Günther Kaufmann not long before he made the 1972 film. Like Amir did to von Kant, Kaufmann, who was incidentally married during that time, did not hesitate to exploit and toy with Fassbinder’s romantic fixation on him throughout their brief but tempestuous relationship, which became another infamous episode to be added to Fassbinder’s deeply troubled personal life.

While maintaining some lightweight mood, Ozon’s film becomes more distant during its last act where its hero indulges in lots of anger and self-pity in front of a few persons who really care about him despite his serious human flaws. The more he lashes out at them, the more we see of what a pathetic narcissist he is, and, needless to say, he richly deserves a small but significant punishment around the end of the story.

Like the 1972 version, the movie is more or less than a chamber drama with some stylish touches to be appreciated, and its main cast members are well-cast in their respective roles. While Denis Ménochet, who previously collaborated with Ozon in “By the Grace of God” (2018), effortlessly embodies his character’s constantly neurotic aspects, Isabelle Adjani, who remains agelessly beautiful even though it has been more than 45 years since her unforgettable Oscar-nominated breakout turn in François Truffaut’s “The Story of Adele H” (1975), has a number of showy moments to shine, and several other main cast members including Khalil Gharbia, Stéfan Crépon, Aminthe Audiard, and Hanna Schygulla (She incidentally played one of the main characters in the 1972 film, by the way) also hold each own small place well around Ménochet.

In conclusion, “Peter von Kant” looks less significant compared to Ozon’s recent notable works including “By the Grace of God” and “Everything Went Fine” (2021), but it is still worthwhile to watch especially if you have watched Fassbinder’s original version. I must point out that Olivier Assayas’ “Clouds of Sils Maria” (2014) did a better variation on the 1972 film in comparison, but “Peter von Kant” is fairly engaging in its own way, and that is enough for recommendation in my trivial opinion.

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