Thursday, September 1, 2022

Film Review: François Ozon’s Latest, “Peter von Kant,” is a Shaky Remake of the Fassbinder Classic “The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant.”

Peter Von Kant (c) Carole Bethuel

Film Review: Peter von Kant 
In Cinemas tomorrow 

Premise: It’s 1972 in Paris and a film director named Peter (Denis Ménochet, looking very similar to Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who wrote the original play and directed the subsequent film in the 1970s) is writing a new film with help from Karl (Stéfan Crépon), his…umm, servant? Partner? Slave? Peter is visited by his ex-lover and muse Sidonie (Isabelle Adjani), who introduces him to her young new friend, Amir (Khalil Gharbia). Peter is immediately smitten by the beautiful lad about twenty years his junior and promises to make him a star. It doesn’t take long for this relationship’s power dynamics to switch after Amir makes his film debut and starts getting a taste of fame, which makes the neurotic and insecure Peter a mess. He lashes out to his circle, including his mother (Hanna Schygulla) and his teen daughter Gabrielle (Aminthe Audiard), who arrive for Peter’s birthday. The big question is will Amir show up. 

My Take: I’ve always been a fan of director François Ozon, although I haven’t been able to keep up with his massive output. But as far as I can tell, he has never really tackled camp with his gay films. Ozon is usually more inspired by directors like Brian de Palma, but here, he is mostly adopting the style of Fassbinder – whose 1972 film version of his play, “The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant,” is now a cult classic – and Pedro Almodóvar. Like Almodóvar, there are over-the-top and histrionic performances, but Ozon also incorporates Almodóvar’s penchant for primary colors dominating scenes, including an astonishing shot of Amir bathed in blue at the front door of Peter’s house that makes him look otherworldly. I have never seen the original Fassbinder film, so I’m not sure how much Ozon changed besides the sex of the main character from Petra to Peter, but Ozon’s version seems to adhere to what seems like a filmed version of the play, never really leaving Peter’s house. And his claustrophobic approach doesn’t do the movie many favors. I would have loved to have seen Peter’s life as a director in Paris or the many adventures that Amir relates to Peter. Ménochet as Peter is fine, doing a good job showing us his oversized ego and melodramatic, almost soap opera reactions to Amir, who despite Gharbia’s beauty, is too much of a cipher for audiences to care much about. I mostly enjoyed the story and atmosphere of Ozon’s last film, “Summer of 85,” but “Peter von Kant’ lost me soon after Peter and Amir got together. But even disappointing Ozon has gems, and this film’s gems are Crépon as Karl, who never speaks but whose feelings are hysterically conveyed by his huge eyes, and especially Adjani as Sidonie. 

Peter Von Kant (c) Carole Bethuel

VIP: Isabelle Adjani. Ever since Adjani became the youngest actress to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Actress for 1975’s “The Story of Adele H,” she has always been one of the most celebrated French actresses of her generation. But nothing she has done before has prepared me for the absolute diva that is the actress Sidonie. Adjani can make you laugh with just a turn of her head or by keeping her lips perched when you know she wants to say something outrageous. If Pedro Almodóvar ever decides to make a French language film, Adjani’s Sidonie is as campy as any of his female comedy characters and always seems on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

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