Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Oct 20, 2022 7:14 pm 
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Glorious homage or satire?

Ozon is compulsively prolific and superficial, and for every admirable or admired movie like Under the Sand (2001), Eight Women (2002), Swimming Pool (2003), or the deliciously smart In the House (2012), or the surprisingly serious issue pic about abusive priests By the Grace of God (2018), he makes at least an equal number of superficial and forgettable self-amusements. This new film is one of the latter. Peter von Kant may be a homage to him but also trivializes (and partly satirizes) the German auteur Rainer Werner Fassbinder (d. 1982) with a riff off his The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972). (Ozon made an early Fassbinder-homage with a similar theme in his 2000 Water Falls on Burning Rocks .)

Peter von Kant alludes freely to The Bitter Tears, but switches sexes from female to male, lesbian to gay, and transposes a Fassbinder-esque figure (Petra>Peter) played by Denis Ménochet, an overweight, wildly substance-abusing, leather-jacket-wearing movie director introduced to a sly, "lazy," promiscuous young male ingenue and serial seducer called Amir (Khalil Ben Gharbia) by his (Peter's) mentor/muse-superstar Sidonie (the as-ever radiant Isabelle Adjani). Hanna Schygulla, the female ingenue in Fassbinder's original, returns to play Peter's German mother here. There are numerous other allusions to Fassbinder such as the big wall of reproduced blowups of classical-erotic male (instead of female) nude paintings (Poussin in the original film). It's all in French, but Schygulla gets to murmur sweet nothings to Peter in German.

All this is fun, for a while. (It's eye-candy throughout.) Ménochet plays his over-the-top role to the hilt, his energy never flagging. Adjani hasn't much to do - she just brings things on and ushers things off; its little more than a spectacular celebrity walk-on - but she looks fabulous, especially when she first appears. The image of her glowing, limpid white skin lingers in the mind's eye.

Typically for this kind of Ozon film, things go best at first, till it all degenerates into shallowness and bombast. The newcomer Khalil Ben Gharbia is excellent, and provides something we probably didn't have in the seventies: a young French speaking Arab Adonis. Amir is amusingly up front about how lowly and uninteresting his origins are - except that they aren't so uninteresting, since his parents died in a sensational tabloid murder-suicide. Ben Gharbia's combination of coquettishness and frankness is priceless. When the relationship goes bad nine months later his role becomes uninteresting; but in real time as in the picture this is a dazzling audition, because he looks voluptuous and also is amusing and natural. He has just come on the scene in the past two years, but you can see Ben Gharbia in the trippy body-and-time-travel French TV series "The 7 Lives of Léa" on Netflix currently, and he stars in another feature soon to be released; watch for more of him.

As is the way with humorous referential pastiches, there is no depth to anything in Peter von Kant, none of the Douglas Sirk-inspired emotional torment Fassbinder went for in The Bitter Tears... and other films, like the richly disturbing Fox and His Friends (1975). What we see is what we get, a couple of intriguing opening scenes and a lot of scenery-chewing once Amir abandons Peter for another famous gay director (Franco Zeffirelli) and freedom from his mentor's cloying adoration.

What Ozon is doing here is alluding quite elaborately to a famous director and one of his first major films, but reducing everything to superficial pastiche - despite the good mise-en-scène and cast. There are good theatrical walk-on style turns also by the wafer-thin Stefan Crepon as Peter's slave-like assistant and Aminthe Audiard as his teenage daughter Gabriele. Ben Gharbia's classically-proportioned body becomes an additional character in itself when it reappears after his physical departure in the form of giant nude blown-up photos on Peter's walls. Great gay beefcake here and lots of sly references to the German auteur; but this isn't the kind of film Jonathan Rosenbaum would pen an essay about as he did about Fassbinder's original.

Peter von Kant, 85 mins., debuted at the Berlinale Feb. 10, 2022, appearing also at over a dozen other major international festivals including Hong Kong, Helsinki, Rio, Busan, London and Taipei. It released in France Jul. 6; AlloCiné press rating 3.6 (72%). Its limited US theatrical release began Sept. 2. 2022. Screened for this review as a rental on YouTube Oct. 20, 2022. Metacritic rating 62%.

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