Missing Fassbinder: François Ozon's 'Peter Von Kant'

  • by Gregg Shapiro
  • Tuesday September 13, 2022
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Denis Ménochet and Khalil Gharbia in 'Peter Von Kant' (Strand Releasing)
Denis Ménochet and Khalil Gharbia in 'Peter Von Kant' (Strand Releasing)

Hollywood has a habit of remaking foreign films into Americanized versions. Some, including the transformation of "La Cage aux Folles" into "The Birdcage," are a success, while many others (Madonna's "Swept Away," for example) must be avoided.

Gay French filmmaker François Ozon, who is known for his original screenplays, as well as adaptations of plays and literary works, has done something different with his new movie "Peter Von Kant" (Strand). Ozon, whose award-winning 2000 film "Water Drops on Burning Rocks" was based on a play by the late Rainer Werner Fassbinder, found even more inspiration in the work of the German multi-hyphenate, and has crafted a gender-swap remake of 1972's "The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant."

The German auteur's influence is so strong that the "Peter Von Kant" movie poster is a tribute to the one for Fassbinder's last movie "Querelle" (1982), and Hannah Schygulla, one of his favorite actresses, is featured in the movie.

Set in 1972, the titular Peter (Denis Ménochet) is a Cologne-based, maniacal, substance-abusing, loathsome, bisexual filmmaker. Mere minutes after the opening credits we discover how abhorrent he is when we hear how he debases his silent and subservient assistant Karl (Stéfan Crépon). Even his dearest friend Sidonie (Isabelle Adjani), an actress and singer whose albums are in rotation on his turntable, isn't safe from his abuse.

Newly single after a brutal breakup, Peter doesn't hold back from regaling Sidonie with all the details. Attempting to cheer him up, she introduces Peter to the gorgeous 23-year-old Amir (Khalil Gharbia), a "charming boy" she met on a boat from Sydney to Southampton. Peter is instantly smitten, although Amir makes it clear he's married to a woman. Nevertheless, Peter invites him to dinner the next night, which results in a screen test and sex.

Stéfan Crépon amd Denis Ménochet in 'Peter Von Kant' (Strand Releasing)  

Practically overnight, Amir becomes a star in Peter's movie and has an article written about him in Stern magazine. As Amir's star is rising, and Peter's fades, their relationship also suffers. Amir is repeatedly unfaithful, while Peter, who initially agreed to being open, is unable to handle Amir's indiscretions. Not surprisingly, Amir leaves Peter, whose drinking is completely out of control.

Barely functioning, Peter momentarily pulls it together for his 40th birthday party. It's attended by his 14-year-old boarding school student daughter Gabrielle (Aminthe Audiard), Sidonie, and his mother Rosemarie (Schygulla), returned rested from six months in Miami. Amir, however, is noticeably absent. Increasingly drunk and despondent, Peter flips out and has a destructive tantrum, forever alienating Sidonie in the process.

For an 82-minute movie, "Peter Von Kant" felt as if it would never end. While it was great to see Adjani and Schygulla onscreen, it's actually Crépon's performance that is the most riveting, especially during the movie's long-awaited conclusion. And, yes, bitter tears are shed. In French and German with English subtitles. Rating: C


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