Peter von Kant (2022)

Peter von Kant is a gender-flipped re-imagining by François Ozon of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1972 classic power play of sexual obsession The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant.

Flipping Hell

by Alexa Dalby

Peter von Kant

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Peter von Kant is a magnificent overblown oddity: an imaginative re-make by a major gay filmmaker of a classic film by another major gay director.

The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, the original, is a cult Rainer Werner Fassbinder film from 1972. This film featured an all-female cast in a melodramatic chamber piece of lesbian sexual obsession, gender-flipped to disguise the male reality it was based on.

In 2022’s Peter von Kant, director François Ozon has gender-flipped the characters in the central triangle back again to male. His version is set in a beautifully evoked 1972.

In Ozon’s Peter von Kant, fashion designer Petra has become successful but slovenly film director Peter (dominatingly played by Denis Ménochet), in a monstrous characterisation closely based on Fassbinder himself, in personality and appearance.

Peter lives with a fragile, skinny assistant Karl (unspeaking but physically eloquent Stefan Crepon), who he bullies and humiliates. All the action takes place in Peter’s lavish Cologne apartment. Karl copes wordlessly with Peter’s abusive behaviour yet still appears to adore the ‘great’ man.

To the exclusion of all else, Peter becomes obsessed with Amir (Khalil Gharbia), a beautiful young man (a character based on Fassbinder’s then-real-life Moroccan lover) introduced to him by glamorous but insincere actress ex Sidonie (a gorgeous, manipulative Isabelle Adjani). Peter first seduces Amir by promising to make him the star of his new film but it’s unclear who is using who.

When Amir moves into the apartment, Karl continues to serve both of them despite the tensions caused by the fault lines of the new relationship and his unspoken (and unnoticed) feelings for Peter and continued mistreatment by him.

As Amir’s career takes off as a result of his association with Peter, the power balance of their relationship changes and it becomes toxic.

Hannah Schygulla, who was the object of desire in Fassbinder’s film, is 50 years later cast as Peter’s mother and there is a new character of Peter’s teenage daughter (Aminthe Audiard).

Peter von Kant is a highly coloured, tense theatrical triangle of claustrophobic sexual obsession and bad faith: it’s a tumultuous, joyful, traunatic three-act whirlwind of desires, regrets and a cruelly vicious meltdown. Lushly melodramatic songs intensify the emotions including Adjani’s rendition of ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’ paralleling Oscar Wilde’s disastrous, self-destructive love for a younger man and Scott Walker’s bombastically dramatic ‘In My Room’. There are clever design details that echo the excesses of Fassbinder’s film – Peter’s purple sheets and the huge wall-sized photos of Amir that cover the walls.

Sadly, I haven’t seen the original Fassbinder Petra film yet, but the Ozon Peter version is intriguing, worth seeing and for me it stands on its own. Does this remake add to the original? You decide.

Peter von Kant premiered at the Berlin Film Festival, where it was nominated for Best Film, screened at the San Sebastián International Film Festival, and is released on 26 December 2022 in the UK and on Curzon Home Cinema on 23 December 2022.

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