Peter Von Kant ***
Starring: Denis Ménochet, Isabelle Adjani, Khalil Ben Gharbia, Hanna Schygulla, Stefan Crepon
Director: François Ozon
Remember when Gus Van Sant remade Psycho for no reason whatsoever? At least he could claim that he was cutting his teeth on one of the biggest classics of cinema. But what of Peter Van Kant, the gender-flipped reimagining of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s classic 1972 drama The Bitter Tears Of Petra Van Kant by François Ozon (8 Women, Summer Of ‘85)? What’s the justification - or need - for that?
Ozon’s first success came with his adaptation of a previously unfilmed Fassbinder play, Water Drops On Burning Rocks. Now, the director has returned with another tribute to the German pioneer of New German Cinema, transforming the claustrophobic original into something much more camp.
Peter Von Kant (Ménochet - By The Grace Of God, Custody) is no longer a lesbian fashion designer, but instead a middle-aged gay movie director who looks remarkably like Fassbinder himself. Through his glamorous movie star BFF (Adjani - Possession, Camille Claudel) he meets young actor Amir (Gharbia) who sees the older man as a convenient way to advance his career. Using him like a private piggy bank, Amir moves in with Peter and his silently abused valet, Karl (Crepon), only for their arrangement to turn quickly sour.
While the original film quietly stewed like a pressure cooker, this boils more like a crazed kettle, with Peter’s eventual meltdown much more Latin than his Germanic forebear. And here comes the film’s biggest flaw; the coldness of Petra has been replaced by the hotheadedness of Peter, symptomatic of its switch in language and the man behind the camera. Fassbinder was known for his almost clinical aloofness, whereas Ozon is exactly the opposite; the former favoured rigid poise, whereas the latter adores camp. Subsequently, ne’er the twain shall meet in this remake that, like Van Sant’s Psycho, serves only to distract from the original. And it certainly won’t be bringing new fans to the original either.
Of course it looks luscious, revelling in the opulent stylings of wealthy 70s Cologne. Peter’s apartment has been styled within an inch of its life, but then so had Petra’s. Technically, this is well-crafted with sharp editing and exquisitely composed shots. But beyond an exercise in cinematic recreation, it’s difficult to know the point of this film. It does everything Fassbinder did, but on a smaller scale. If you loved the original, you’ll probably like this. But the uninitiated will be left cold. Ozon might be a master of his oeuvre, but sometimes you do need someone to say no, even to him.
UK Release: 23rd December 2022 on VOD released by Curzon, or 30th December in cinemas.