As in a theater, a huge curtain opens. Not on a stage but on a large apartment, which will be the place for a show. Burlesque, baroque, sensual, violent show. The spectacle of a daily existence transformed into an extreme performance.
Per game? Without a doubt. By madness? In part at least. By intimate suffering and desperate quest for ways out of his anxieties? Certainly. By megalomania, childishness, egocentrism? Certainly, certainly, but what did we say when we said that? By humanity pushed to its limits, exacerbated to the point of ridicule and odiousness at certain times, overwhelming with sincerity and lucidity at others.
You know a little, a lot or not at all who was Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Depending on the case, you will not see the same film when watching François Ozon’s twenty-first feature film. In any case, you will see a dizzying and poignant film.
Knowing what was and what made the ogre-superhero of modern German cinema necessarily modifies the vision of the film. Just like knowing that one of his twenty-five films shot at a devilish pace between 1969 and his death at age 37 in 1982 is called Petra von Kant’s Bitter Tears. peter von kant resumes the main canvas.
It was about the devastating relationship between a great fashion designer and a poor young woman under the gaze of the submissive servant. Of Petra at To fart, same synopsis, but with men in all these roles. Ignoring everything about this filiation changes the way of receiving the film ofozonbut in no way prevents the multiple emotions it arouses.
A cyclone behind closed doors
Claiming the physical resemblance and transgressive behavior of Fassbinder, Denis Ménochet is an impressive and very moving Peter von Kant, filmmaker caught up in the vertigo of his success and his many impulses, from which the suicidal dimension is never absent.
Under the gaze of Karl, the fearless and mute servant, the relations of the disproportionate central figure – and suffering from this disproportion – and the young Amir (Khalil Ben Gharbia) erected as prince of fantasies of the master of the place, trigger a kind of cyclone behind closed doors, which leaves no affect unaffected.
Peter, Amir, Karl, and also the friend, Sidonie, later the mother and then Peter’s daughter are archetypes as well as characters—and very few of the actual people from whom they were modeled.
Sidonie (Isabelle Adjani) who once had a major role in the life and work of Peter, and now plays, with affection and perversity, her own score. | Diaphane
It will be without great challenge to identify Ingrid Caven in the actress and singer played by Isabelle Adjani, and much more decisive to affirm that Adjani offers here, and by far, his best interpretation since… for a very, very long time. As there is no need to know the models of the servant encamped with a way of tragicomic genius by Stefan Crepon.
One said “physical resemblance” between Ménochet and Fassbinder, for the roundness of the features and the imposing stature; it was going too fast: the French actor does not really resemble the German filmmaker and playwright. There is on his face and in his look a childhood, a sweetness very far from the interior and tragic fury of the author and interpreter of Love is colder than death.
And it’s much better this way, in the mystery of gaps like points of rapprochement. It’s a movie, you know? A scene where Peter begins to film the handsome Amir will suffice to proclaim the powers of unveiling of the movie theaterfar beyond literal realism, but never entirely at odds with reality.
The presence of Hanna Schygulla brings about a disturbing fusion between the one who was Fassbinder’s creative partner and her role as Peter von Kant’s mother. | Diaphane
The lived life is not absent either. It’s hard not to be gripped by a singular emotion seeing Hanna Schygulla the magnificent, who was Fassbinder’s most unforgettable creative companion, here interpreting her mother, also an important figure in the galaxy of the late author of Marriage of Maria Braun.
May Ozon and his film forever protect us from anyone who thinks of making a Fassbinder biopic. Just like improbable and useless films “in the manner of” Fassbinder. peter von kant does not imitate the style of the one from which its main character is inspired, it clearly plays in another tone, more playful and on other rhythms, where the dosages between melodrama, carnival and tragedy are not the same.
A fascination with signs
Appearing late in the film, Schygulla is the only real crystallization of the bond between RWF and PvK. Because it is very strictly a fiction, with actors who play roles – moreover, they speak French.
As to whether the director, who had already been so successful in bringing a play by Fassbinder to the screen, Water drops on hot stones in 2000, represents himself in the figure of the author played by Ménochet, the question is neither more nor less relevant than to know if he had represented himself under the features of Charlotte Rampling in under the sand or Catherine Deneuve in Vase.
Peter facing the portrait of Amir (Khalil Ben Gharbia) for whom he burns with love, jealousy, disappointment – for Amir, or for Amir’s image? | Diaphane
The only thing that matters is the film, its sincere energy springing from this blaze of artifice, its worried modesty at the end of so much exhibitionism and extravagance, its nuanced sadness at the confluence of bursts saturated with colors, melodrama, sexualitydrunkenness, fascination for signs of power, seduction, challenges.
Rainer Werner Fassbinder offered the world, during his lifetime but forever, an exceptional work. From this work now arises a film which is neither a biographical evocation nor a paraphrase, but a personal invention by a filmmaker of today, an inspired and singular filmmaker. And he, too, capable of working his own demons.
Devil’s horn, cornucopia
This singularity explores the ways so often complacent or ridiculous of the excess of feelings and behaviors. Audacious attempt: in all art, particularly in the cinema, it is infinitely more delicate to handle excess than soft harmonies, paroxysm than nuance.
What Ozon, Ménochet, the other performers but also the cinematographer (Manu Dacosse), the set designer (Katia Wyszkop) and the costume designer (Pacaline Chavanne) achieve here demonstrates extreme accuracy, in a deliberately unstable balance above abyss of bad taste.
Together, they transform this small domestic theater crossed by the storms of the desire, pride, fear of others, and creative invention brought to incandescence, into a Mephistophelic retort that would also be a cornucopia. How François Ozon’s film is, in spirit, perfectly faithful to Fassbinder.
Jean-Michel Frodon’s film reviews are to be found in the show “Cultural Affinities” by Tewfik Hakem, Saturdays from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. on France Culture.
peter von kant
by Francois Ozon
with Denis Ménochet, Isabelle Adjani, Khalil Ben Gharbia, Stefan Crepon, Hanna Schygulla
Released July 6, 2022