Ozon plays around with this notion throughout “Peter von Kant.” An early scene in Fassbinder’s film where the heroine is visited by her cousin Sidonie (Katrin Schaake) is restaged so that Peter is visited by a female cousin with the same name, but she’s played by Isabelle Adjani, who wears a wig that faintly evokes one prominently displayed in Fassbinder’s movie. Amir seems to be a composite of two important men in Fassbinder’s love life. One is El Hedi Ben Salem, a Moroccan Berber who had a tumultuous and often violent relationship with the director and acted in three of his movies, including “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul.” The other is Armin Meier (note the first name, as well as how the full name sounds when you say both words together quickly), an orphaned ex-butcher whose relationship with Fassbinder was the partial inspiration for an episode of “Germany in Autumn.”
That “Petra von Kant” was itself a tactically opaque working-through of Fassbinder’s own experiences (as was, and is, the case with all dramatists to some extent) creates an ouroboros effect in the mind of the Fassbinder-conscious viewer. The project seems to devour and digest its inspiration as it unreels, possibly in attempt to return us to the place from where “Petra von Kant” came—though, again, who can say when the director holds his cards so close to his mid-’70s vintage, probably velour and tan vest? What’s deposited in viewer’s laps when the final credits roll is a question mark, which is exactly how Ozon seems to prefer it—and that’s not a bad thing.
The actors are admirably committed—particularly Gharbia, who never telegraphs many hidden layers that Amir will ultimately reveal to us; and Ménochet, who captures a bit of Fassbinder’s burly gossamer energy without trying to do an impersonation. He’s an altogether more compelling Fassbinder-as-dramatic-construct than Oliver Masucci in Oskar Röhler’s “Enfant Terrible” (which, curiously, also indulged armchair psychoanalysis of Fassbinder without taking the literal-minded, “Bohemian Rhapsody” and-then-he-did-this approach).
That almost nobody is making movies like this at the moment is a point in favor of seeking out “Peter von Kant”—although viewers should consider themselves forewarned that they will probably get more out of it if they take a lot into it, and that such a concern is probably the furthest thing from Ozon’s mind.