When does love turn to obsession? That’s the primary question posed by legendary director Francois Ozon in his newest queer drama, Peter Von Kant. Set in 1972 Koln, the movie is actually a retelling and modernization of Fassbinder’s The Bitter Tears of Peter Von Kant, but without any knowledge of that myself, it nevertheless comes up quite short. The majority of the runtime involves the namesake Peter Von Kant (Denis Ménochet, Inglourious Basterds, The French Dispatch) having a mental and emotional breakdown over his newest fixation, a budding young actor and the director’s newest “discovery” Amir (Khalil Ben Gharbia). How can one be bothered to relate with Peter when he is in fact so self-centered and self-obsessed?
Peter’s assistant/servant, Karl (Stefan Crepon), entertains his every whim, including but not limited to weirdly intimate dancing with open-shirt Peter, always being ready to swoop in with a refill of Peter’s endless stock of liquor, and typing up Peter’s script for a new movie produced by Bavaria. Once Amir comes into the picture, it becomes even more clear just how much Peter takes advantage of Karl, using him only when convenient. Karl is forced to look on in horror as Peter gets intimate with Amir, who also happens to be much younger than him. Karl’s part of this story is maybe the only thing in Peter Von Kant that fully worked for me. That said, he is barely in the movie enough, and sadly mostly relegated to a supporting character.
Amir, introduced to Peter via Peter’s relationship with seasoned actress Sidonie (Isabelle Adjani), is featured more heavily than Karl, but only slightly. A charming new boy who just wants to “make it to Germany,” Peter is immediately captivated by Amir. A weird sexual tension and charged energy lingers between the two of them, as Peter extends an invitation for Amir to return the very next day for potential casting in the film he will be making for Bavaria. Peter promises film festival travels and endless travel, but can it possibly be enough to satiate young Amir? Peter wants to make Amir his star, and that he does. Amir is hailed as a Von Kant discovery, and Von Kant proudly professes his love. We almost never leave the comfort of Peter’s home within this movie to actually see him in any other context beyond deep seclusion from others. Is it any surprise when they have a huge fight, and Amir storms off, leaving Peter alone in his sorrow? The sole bit of stunning imagery comes when Peter burns a massive portrait, Amir’s face plastered all over the walls of his gigantic home.
Peter Von Kant goes through all the usual tropes of being obsessed with someone. Early on, Peter is already referring to Amir as “his love.” Amir is barely willing to say he “likes” Peter, let alone more. Peter’s smothering, overbearing personality made the film difficult to watch at times. Especially in the later stages when Peter is taking out his frustrations of family members and Sidonie, how can we possibly feel sorry for him? I have to say that overall I was really let down by this movie. Francois Ozon’s excellent 2020 film, Summer of 85, proved that he can easily tinker in the queer cinema playground, but perhaps his style simply does not fit this material.
Peter Von Kant screened as the opening film at 2022’s Berlin Film Festival. It heads to limited release theaters on Friday, September 2nd.