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Peter von Kant

Director: François Ozon (France, Belgium). Year of Release: 2022

Cologne, 1972. A young man with a bushy moustache and wide, staring eyes is opening the curtains of a mansion-like house. He raises his master who is lying on a king-size bed. Peter is a successful film director who has been drinking off the collapse of his latest relationship. But he needs to get up to dictate a letter to Romy Schneider. Peter doesn’t look unlike Rainer Werner Fassbinder, one of whose early films was called The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant.

Peter gets a visit from Sidonie, his erstwhile muse, an intimidatingly large photo of whom hangs above his bed. After Peter cast Sidonie when she was very young, she became a very successful actress. Sidonie is played by Isabelle Adjani with imperious hauteur. Since her early success, she’s gone all establishment and married a businessmen. When Peter offers her a cognac, she says it’s too early – it’s still morning – but instead offers him a line of cocaine.

Sidonie introduces Peter to Amir, a 23-year old boy (he looks barely adult) with a North African background. Sidonie and Amir are about to go to lunch, but Peter eyes him eagerly and offers him a part in his new film – in fact, he’ll rewrite the film just for Amir. As Amir is half way out of the door, Peter suggests a meeting to talk about it further. How about 8pm tomorrow? Amir briefly hesitates, then agrees. It’s not long before Peter has invited Amir to move in.

Peter improvises a casting session, asking Karl, the moustachioed man from the opening scene, to hold the camera as Peter asks Amir increasingly intrusive questions about the death of his parents. Invited to introduce himself, Amir lets slip that he has a wife, but that they live apart. Peter looks at Amir lasciviously, while Amir looks like he’s found a potential nest egg as long as he says and does the right things.

The film can only work if we believe in the relationship between Peter and Amir. Peter is much older – and, let’s face it, fatter and uglier. And yet Denis Ménochet plays Peter with such a louche charm that we never doubt that Amir falls for him – or at the very least is not just in it for the money and career opportunities. Nonetheless, Amir insists on seeing other men, and takes great joy in gleefully reporting his encounters to his jealous sugar daddy.

Meanwhile Karl continues to clean around the literal and metaphorical mess of Peter’s life. Karl obviously desires his boss – we see the pain in his eyes when he watches Peter dancing with a naked Amir from afar. And yet he holds his tongue, barely speaking a word throughout the film. Obediently following Peter’s orders, Karl complies dutifully, understanding his place. He pours drinks, types letters, and even at one stage removes the shell from Amir’s shrimp (not a metaphor).

Suddenly it’s 9 months later, and we’re still in the large house. A couple of huge prints of Saint Sebastian have appeared in the living room. After starring in Peter’s film, Amir’s photo now appears in magazines and he has made himself part of the furniture. All emotional control in the relationship has now switched to Amir. When his wife rings and arranges to meet him in Frankfurt, he walks out of the house, saying he may return, but not for a while. Peter looks on, devastated.

A little more time passes, although we still haven’t left the house. The pictures of Saint Sebastian are now accompanied by more-than-life-sized photos of Amir with arrows poking out of his semi-naked body. It’s Peter’s 40th birthday, and he’s being visited by his daughter, his mother, and Sidonie, who lets slip that Amir is in town and might just turn up later. Peter spends the evening on tenterhooks as tensions rise and everyone is pretty awful to each other.

Does this film have anything profound to tell us? I don’t think so. Does it matter? Not really. Does it think it is being profound? Now, here’s a slight problem. Peter von Kant, both the film and the character, feels a little too self-important. And it seems that it has been written for an audience which will knowingly, and irritatingly, nod at obscure references, not because these references are particularly insightful but to show that they are part of the in crowd who get this sort of thing.

So, there’s potentially a lot to dislike here, yet it comes out relatively unscathed. This is because, despite the fact that it doesn’t mean much, the acting is uniformly first rate. The set design contains large swathes of glorious red, which matches one of Peter’s shirts. One one level, it is a masterclass in film making. On another, you can’t help thinking “just what is the point in this?” At least, at less than 1½ hours, it doesn’t drag on, which is faint praise, but it is something.

Ultimately, this is a piece of fluff, something that is nice to look at, but little more. I don’t necessarily mean this in a bad way. Fluff can be good and entertaining in its own way. If you want to go with your I-Spy book of RW Fassbinder references, then fill your boots, but please do not sit anywhere near me. However, if you want to see some good actors, acting well, despite the lack of substantial material, then this just may be the film for you.

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