Brilliantly cast and yet failed on the model: François Ozon’s Fassbinder homage “Peter von Kant”
A brewery whose logo shows the towers of the famous cathedral once advertised with the slogan: “Cologne is everywhere there is a cathedral.” It’s the same in many films that are set there: as long as you only see the colossus every now and then almost every faceless row of houses in Germany can pass for Cologne.
A digital cathedral panorama is then sufficient for François Ozon to locate his chamber play “Peter von Kant” in the hometown of WDR. Here, where Rainer Werner Fassbinder found his caring editorial haven, the title character, played by Denis Ménochet, a famous film director, resides in a luxury apartment. In Ozon’s travesty of Fassbinder’s melodrama “The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant”, the portly star director becomes more and more like this historical role model.
In the original from 1972, Margit Carstensen played a fashion designer who falls madly in love with a young woman played by Hanna Schygulla, who soon lets her exploit her. Here, that role falls to young actor Amir (Khalil Gharbi), the beautiful son of the filmmaker’s former muse. An equally dazzling looking Isabelle Adjani is already present in this role as a large photo behind Peter’s king-size bed and as an interpreter of a German hit before she actually comes through the door.
What is a real ozone film can also take a second diva: Hanna Schygulla can look forward to an almost devoted homage in the role of the director’s mother. Fassbinder himself does not fare so well; not that Ozone exaggerated the child tyrant’s manipulative genius. But he overlaid his production with something Fassbinder would have loathed: fake smoothness and genuine nostalgia.
Like in the tabloid comedy
Christoph Schlingensief understood him better in his homage. Because Fassbinder made use of the well-stocked arsenals of glamor and pathos in Hollywood and Ufa. But beneath it shone a raw, deeply human imperfection seldom guested in Ozone’s cinema. All characters are staged on their surfaces, like in the tabloid comedy you can literally hear the doors rattling with their entrances and exits.
Denis Ménochet, one of the best French actors of his generation, at least gives the character’s mannerisms the necessary coherence – but there is nothing more than exaltation, vanity and laziness in his dialogue. However, the synchronized version also sweeps away over the few nuances. The most interesting role is the dumb servant Karl, who lets Peter shoo him around and only spits in his face when he tries to be respectful. The original film has the maid Marlene, but of course, as blatantly as Ozon pokes fun at BDSM preferences here, this abusive relationship wasn’t meant to be.
What is there to admire about “Peter von Kant” anyway? Maybe the sophisticated 1972 decor with its flokati chic? With its large photos, it looks more like a television studio than an apartment. Andy Warhol style movie posters? Or funny parodic film quotes like the film title in the background, “Death is hotter than love”? You can smile about it. But Adjani’s chanson, we accept that: “Everyone kills what he loves”, breathed by her enchantingly in German, is the new setting of a beautiful Peer Raven melody. On the single cover, the star poses in Marlene Dietrich style with a tuxedo and cigarette holder. In 1972 we would have paid four marks for it straight away, but unfortunately this is only available digitally today.
Peer Raben staged the world premiere of the play of the same name before Fassbinder made a film out of it. Ulrich Gregor called it Fassbinder’s “perhaps the most virtuoso melodrama in its design and propensity to excess”.
If Fassbinder used the melodramatic constructions of Hollywood classics, it was not to parody them. Apart from Todd Haynes and his Sirk homage “Far from Heaven” hardly anyone has managed to do this – many of the role models narrowly escaped the danger of overpowering their feelings. The only level at which Ozon’s film still finds a certain emotional backbone is the fetishizing affinity of its hero to Amir – and that too is only possible thanks to the charisma of Khalil Gharbi.
Maybe it’s just that Ozone, who created a monument for Fassbinder in his early film “Drops on Hot Stones”, this time has come within the sphere of his own threat – “everyone kills what they love”.
Peter von Kant. D/F 2022. Director: François Ozon. 90 min.