By Roger Costa
PETER VON KANT
Throughout his vast and brilliant career, contemporary French auteur Francois Ozon has created a unique landmark out of his name. Sensitive, precise and deeply engaged in studying complex characters, Ozon has been crafting wonderful stories of love, desire and obsession, exploring both the male and the female pursuit for emotional stability and carnal satisfaction. He is a master in what he does, and his latest, a provocative, cynical and passionate ode to the work of polemic German filmmaker Fassbinder, which had its world premiere as the opener for this year’s Berlin Film Festival, is nothing short than superb.
Ozon adapted Fassbinder’s 1972 film “The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant”, a melodramatic self-portrait based on his own turbulent and obsessive gay relationship to a young model, which was initially intended for theater but became a lesbian love story for cinema. Ozon is loyal to Fassbinder’s campy and extravagant styles, conceiving a meticulously designed, choreographed and shot production entirely set inside the filmmaker’s apartment.
Here, he switches back the gender, allowing actor Denis Menochet to display his incredible talent, ravishingly embodying the pleasure, the pain, the euphoric artistry and unhealthy habits of his filmmaker character. Menochet certainly is one of Europe’s greatest performers, and luckily this project will give his career a little boost, putting him on the top list.
The story develops on his attempts to finish a screenplay alongside his assistant, who lives with him and endures all sorts of humiliation, but his efforts are tested when his bittersweet friend and muse, the iconic star Sidonie, comes for a visit and brings a friend, the young, vulnerable and married Amir. Peter instantly becomes obsessed with the kid’sa looks and figure, casting him on a film and persuading him into an open romantic experience that will fulfill their desires, mark their lives forever and also will push them to their limits, emotionally, physical and professional. Running at only 85 minutes, Ozon crafts another fascinating character study, that never loses its appeal or interest, despite the theater atmosphere. Plus, the actors (including Isabelle Adjani as Sidonie, and Fassbinder’s regular Hanna Schygulla as the mother of the compulsive filmmaker) are fabulously convincing, delivering raw, courageous and emotionally-charged performances. The result proves that Ozon continues on top of his game, and perfectly understands the necessary balance between art and commercial. That means both the audience, the newcomers and the more exigent critics will enjoy it alike.
(Strand Releasing. 9/2. IFC Center.)
THE BOOK OF DELIGHTS
Based on the works of renowned Brazilian novelist Clarice Lispector, this delicate, observational and emphatic erotic drama follows the attempts of a young and complicated woman in finding pleasure and love.
Simone Spoladore anchors this dramatic female puzzle as Lori, a 30-something independent woman who has a serious issue in relating to people, or maintaining a stable, healthy relationship. She works as a primary teacher where she shares some of her melancholy with the children. She is strongly attracted to an Argentinian professor, Ulisses (Javier Drolas) whose philosophies and standards involve and distract her from her odd loneliness. In other cases, it reflects her own image which most of the time tends to disappoint her. They become lovers but her uneasiness and insecurity come across her real feelings, collecting another missed opportunity.
Marking her feature-length debut, director Marcela Lordy masterly explores the complex emotions of Lori, as she struggles on her romantic adventures, sleeping with different lovers in search of herself and an easy escape from her uncontrollable desires. While extracting a powerhouse performance from Spoladore, the director presents the material with a kind, realistic and seductive perspective, demonstrating complete control on the issue of women’s liberation, sexuality, identity and the longing for connection.
The result is melancholically beautiful, thoughtful and satisfyingly erotic. It confirms her as a promising and potent new voice in world cinema.
(Film Movement. 9/2. On Demand. Go to https://filmmovement.com/the-book-of-delights for details.)