Toxic teddy bear

Peter von Kant, very drunk and very alone, dances through his apartment, which is bathed in cold, dark blue light. Rather, he staggers. Desperately, in his dressing gown, he waits for the call of the young actor whose large-format picture adorns his wall, shirtless and in the pose of Saint Sebastian: Amir. Peter once loved Amir and made him famous, then he left him. There, a call: But no, it’s not Amir, just some well-wisher. It’s Peter von Kant’s birthday.

A chanson by Cora Vaucaire, “Comme au théâtre”, is playing on the record player, in which a woman also remembers a past love affair and calls after her lover in the past that the more she thinks about it, he is “a genius of mise en scene”. A brilliant director. At that moment, one imagines that François Ozon would talk in the same way about Rainer Werner Fassbinder, whom he mourns for, whom he remade in his film “Peter von Kant” and at the same time evokes.

Fassbinder’s 1972 chamber play The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, based on his play of the same name, was set in the studio apartment of wealthy, successful fashion designer Petra von Kant, played by Margit Carstensen. Petra von Kant falls unhappily in love with a young model (Hanna Schygulla) who makes her big, only to be dumped by him while she orders her secretary, the mute Marlene (Irm Hermann), around like a slave.

It was all not just one of those ruthless Fassbinderian explorations of money, love and power, but also a brilliant moment of mise en scène , along Michael Ballhaus’ long, winding tracking shots, which turn the cramped place into a sprawling labyrinth of torment and made a shrine to the art of cinema.

At the center is a tyrant director who falls prey to impossible passions

Fassbinder’s film was often read in an (auto-)biographical way, as the master’s commentary on his self-created, highly productive and highly toxic environment. The focus is on the director tyrant who exploits his employees while he himself falls prey to the most unlikely passions. Ozon takes advantage of this reading in this homage to Fassbinder, whose photo he already shows during the opening credits.

The artist and his mother: Hanna Schygulla and Denis Ménochet in “Peter von Kant”.

(Photo: Carole Bethuel/MFA)

Because Kant dances alone, and this new adaptation – which was allowed to open the Berlinale in the spring – is more of a mental cinema in the imagination of the cinephile French filmmaker, who has repeatedly resorted to film historical templates by Lubitsch or Cronenberg in his last films. Apart from Hanna Schygulla, who has a guest appearance as Kant’s mom, the actors and actresses are from France and speak French. Kant is thus more of a Frenchized fantasy cooper of Ozone than having any connection to the original.

Now Ozon knows exactly where it is in film history. He knows that today, in the year 2022, one can only pay homage to an artist monolith like Fassbinder ironically. Kant is sometimes a narcissistic artist and then again a defiant, tearful, somehow ridiculous child with folded arms: a toxic teddy bear who first cholerically yells at the women around him, only to then let “Mother” Schygulla sing him to sleep. The genius of the mise en scène has long since said goodbye. The drunken dances remain.

Peter von Kant , France / Belgium 2022. – Directed by François Ozon . Book: Ozone, based on the film by Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Camera: Manuel Dacosse. With Denis Menochet, Isabelle Adjani, Khalil Ben Gharbia. MFA / film agents, 85 min. Theatrical release: September 22, 2022.

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