Peter von Kant – London Film Festival 2022 – Film Review

François Ozon is one of France’s acclaimed New Wave directors who flits between a range of themes within his film catalogue. His directorial variety includes the film musical whodunit 8 Femmes, the gloriously sensual Swimming Pool to the recent Everything Went Fine, concerning an ageing parent. Ozon’s signature flair for captivating aesthetics, sensuality and frank discourse is easily identifiable within his films. Ozon’s latest film, Peter von Kant certainly showcases his filmmaking staples. Ozon has placed his unique stamp on an adaptation of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s play, The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant with a theatrical, claustrophobic, melodramatic film of a spoiled rotten filmmaker. Peter von Kant may be reminiscent of that new genre of auto fiction given that Ozon has changed the gender and the role of the titular character thus creating a resemblance to the dynamics of Fassbinder’s life.

There certainly seems to be a Fassbinder renaissance in effect given the release of the 2020 film Enfant Terrible portraying his life. Peter von Kant is a similar film but distinguishes itself via that romantic Ozon hue. Here, Denis Ménochet portrays Peter as a man-child prone to extremes, without the explicit sadism, with his every whim catered to by his silent but expressive assistant in a scene stealing performance by Stéfan Crépon as Karl. Peter is surrounded in life by sycophants. There is the actress-muse Sidonie with whom Peter has a mutual victim- saviour co-dependent relationship which adds another dramatic element to his life. Renowned French actress Isabelle Adjani plays the adoring but calculating Sidonie with a captivating delivery oozing that feminine charm when necessary to court favours from the men in her life.

Ozon’s directorial control is evident, like a seasoned orchestral conductor navigating a classical concert. Under Ozon’s direction there is a skilful immersion within this microcosm inhabited by Peter, which is simultaneously a voyeuristic experience and analytical with the camera retaining a respectful distance. Such distance also creates the illusion of watching a play unfold onstage. However, this means that there is an objectivity adopted which unsatisfyingly prevents further insight in to Peter’s extreme emotional state with his penchant for depressive mood swings and rage. Other jarring aspects of the film include those occasional unexpected exchanges in German. Whilst there are sparse references to the location of Peter’s apartment in Cologne, the dialogue between the characters is in French for the most part and the change in language jolts the audience out of the reverie of Peter’s inner sanctum.

Denis Ménochet and Stefan Crepon in Peter von Kant
Denis Ménochet and Stefan Crepon in Peter von Kant

Peter von Kant further explores this gilded cage of Peter’s with shots panning through a highly decorated, but sterile, apartment resembling a museum or stately home with its impressive art work on display. The objects demonstrate that Peter has impeccable taste in furnishings but is lacking in that investment in his emotional development.

Indeed, Ozon plays with this query of money buying happiness. Despite Peter’s exquisite home, he is highly emotional to the point of obsession when someone new enters his life and unsettles the status quo. It is during these moments that Ozon truly questions the relationship between artist and muse and the connection between money and happiness. Is it the role of the artist to portray the vulnerability of its subject authentically or to manipulate its subject to produce a commercially acceptable image? As such Ozon also questions that authenticity in a filmmaker’s role given that Peter is a director too.

This notion of truth and authenticity is a striking aspect within Peter Von Kant. Peter’s love interest challenges him as to the version of the truth that he and perhaps all of us prefer. Should we ask for and expect an unfiltered truth, where matters of the heart are involved, or do we wish to immerse ourselves in a sanitised version of the truth to avoid any emotional pain as love hurts, so they say. There are clear parallels to the Shakespearean play King Lear in that regard as Ménochet’s performance of Peter unveils a very tragic character. Ozon is therefore unafraid to show that artists may not fully be in control of the canvas on which they work. However, this notion of suffering for love and art is not entirely new and therefore Peter von Kant feels formulaic in following the trajectory of a tragedy play. Peter is insufferable whilst in love but despite Ménochet’s tour de force acting within this chamber piece, he is limited by such directional choices. As such, it is difficult to empathise with Peter in his moments of angst.

Peter von Kant showcases Ozon’s stylish flair and his talent for exploring the messiness of relationships. But, the film cannot shake that sensation of déjà vu. Therefore Peter von Kant’s failure to pierce beyond the surface of Peter’s temper tantrums, with a preference for an over-reliance on a dialogue heavy melodrama, is likely to leave audiences wanting more. Still, it is an aesthetically pleasing watch.

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