The 72nd edition of the Berlin Film Festival kicks off with a free adaptation of The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, 50 years after Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s original premiered at the festival. Honouring one of Germany’s cinematic pioneers, it is easy to mistake François Ozon’s latest feature as a commonplace opening film. But instead of a classic celebration of the art form, Peter von Kant delves into the emotional underbelly of the creative process and a director’s unsuccessful attempt at writing a screenplay for his life.

The titular character, played by Denis Ménochet, lives in Cologne in the 1970s. He recently left his partner because they couldn’t handle his success, he says. His best friend, Sidonie (Isabelle Adjani), never gave him his due for discovering her talents, he alleges. What the audience sees for themselves is how he treats his live-in servant Karl: Peter degrades him every chance he gets.  

When Sidonie introduces him to Amir (Khalil Ben Gharbia), Peter falls madly in love – or so he thinks. In truth, this, too, is a relationship whose reality differs vastly from what the filmmaker has forged in his imagination.

In an effort to reconcile Fassbinder’s characters with the autobiographical background that coloured them, Ozon flips the all-female cast of the 1972 film to focus on a gay relationship. Unfortunately there are no new insights gained from this role reversal. Elements of the story that today are generally approached with caution, such as the complex power dynamic of an artist-muse relationship, are also absent of political awareness. Paired with occasionally theatrical staging, this gives the film a slightly dated air. 

The action all takes place inside Peter’s apartment – there are few distractions from the performances. This is Ozon’s third collaboration with Ménochet, whose unrestrained emotionality is the backbone of this project, but it is young Khalil Ben Gharbia who turns out to be the revelation of this film.

★★★☆☆

Selina Sondermann

Peter von Kant does not have a UK release date yet.

For further information about the event visit the Berlin Film Festival website here.

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