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Peter von Kant: A Mediocre Melodrama

François Ozon’s revealing ode to Rainer Werner Fassbinder explores the relationship between a man and his protégé – with about as much subtlety as a gunshot.

Peter von kant

Right off the bat, François Ozon’s Peter von Kant portrays itself as a fashionable 70s flick, although jarringly the tone resembles that of an early 00s sitcom without prompting much of the intended laughter.

The plot sees the titular character (Denis Ménochet), a movie director, fall for his fleeting muse, Amir (Khalil Ben Gharbia). Originally a German adaptation with female leads, it’s hard to understand why a male-centric retelling was justifiable given that it does nothing to better the narrative.

The movie takes place almost entirely indoors, with scarce cuts to the French streets beyond, and plays out in a theatrical manner – understandable given the source material is a play, but undeniably stuffy in its execution. The characters' expressions often seem unnatural, their emotions caricature-like, and monologues drone on for the sake of droning on without any real depth. What you see is what you get: a melodramatic tale about the thin line between obsession and possession, told with about as much subtlety as a gunshot.

For a movie weighing heavily on his existence, it’s hard to sympathise with the main character. Peter von Kant is cold, rigid and egoistic. He does, however, serve as an apt allegory of the predatory nature of the movie industry. When he’s first introduced to 23-year-old Amir, cherubic and naive, Peter is instantly attracted to him. The next time they meet questions are asked about Amir’s parents and his education, subjects that highlight the disparity between their stages of life. Later on in the movie Peter scoffs at the idea of his daughter falling in love, despite her being closer in age to Amir than Peter himself. Similarly, there’s a scene wherein Amir calls Peter ‘papa’, and jokingly or not it highlights the unconventionality of the duo.

Perhaps most telling of all, there’s one scene in this movie that shows Amir being guided in front of a camera while Peter becomes increasingly intrusive, shoving the camera in his face in order to capture every second of his gradual emotional outburst. It just about sums up the entire nature of their relationship: Peter expects vulnerability and dependency, and Amir gives it to him for the chance to be revered. To Peter, the power to offer Amir stardom is freedom rather than entrapment; to Amir, adoration and exploitation are one and the same.

Their relationship is more transactional than anything else, so when it hits breaking point it’s hard to harbour any sympathy. Irrespective of one another, the two characters completely shift personalities by the climax of the movie, but no lessons are ever learned in the process and there’s certainly little compassion shared.

In the midst of all this darkness is a light named Karl. Silent and subservient, he’s Peter’s perpetually ignored assistant who, in true theatric fashion, serves as a break from the narrative. It’s as though the main characters are acting out a film within a film in Peter’s image, and whenever he snaps at Karl the narrative becomes unsettled.

Tender moments are easily ruined. The relationship between Peter and Amir, a concoction, loses its blissful exterior. Scripts are scribbled out and done over. The edges of broken glass lie strewn across the floor. In the end, Peter von Kant’s life is nothing but a farce. He believes himself to be the director of his own story, viewing others merely as pawns. So when characters make decisions that go against his wishes, his world crumbles.

To direct is to control. To lose control is to lose purpose. Without purpose, without desire, what is a man to do?

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