Peter von Kant: Francois Ozon’s Male, Self-Reflexive Take on Fassbinder’s Femal Melodrama, The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant

François Ozon had made a breakthrough in his career in 2000 with his third feature, an adaptation of an unproduced stage play by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Water Drops on Burning Rocks. (I saw it at the Toronto Film Fest)


Peter von Kant still



The ultra-prolific and versatile Ozon has proved to be a filmmaker very different in range from the late German auteur.

With 21 features under his belt, over the past three decades, Ozon is one of most underestimated European directors.

Two decades later, he has returned to the master of New German Cinema, who died untimely of drug overdose, with his new film, Peter von Kant.

He presents a gender-switched version of Fassbinder’s 1972 movie The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, an odd,  claustrophobic drama in which only women appear on screen.

Fassbinder’s film is set entirely in the apartment of a fashion designer who has an emotionally abusive relationship with her live-in assistant, and then conceives a mad and despairing love for a beautiful young woman who openly cheats on her.

Ozon has removed the bitter tears from the title and also the darker, more acerbic tone of the film itself.  Peter von Kant is a lot more genial, campy and comic take than Fassbinder’s gaunt ordeal. More significantly, he has made some of these characters men.

The female fashionista is now a male movie director, Peter von Kant, boisterously played by Denis Ménochet, with hints that suggest that he’s sort of supposed to be Fassbinder himself, though Fassbinder was a lot tougher and more unsentimental.

Peter has a deadpan houseboy called Karl (Stefan Crepon) who hilariously (as opposed to tragically or erotically) is the intimate witness to all the passionate confrontations between Peter and his lover.

Petra’s bitchy female frenemy from the first film is still female: Sidonie, played by Isabelle Adjani.

Also still female is Peter’s teen daughter, home from boarding school, played by Aminthe Audiard (grandniece of Jacques). Peter’s beautiful, duplicitous lover Amin is played by Khalil Ben Gharbia. Hanna Schygulla, who played the lover role in 1972, has been brought back to play Peter’s mother.

The dynamics are definitely different now that there are both men and women on the screen: it is less airless and crazed, although just as theatrical and artificial.

Ozon often gives his characters stagey entrances by framing them self-consciously passing through and exiting doorway.

Ozon’s chief coup is making Peter a film director, which means that Peter can give Amin screen test in his apartment, during which he asks Amin about his parents’ tragic death.