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Actress Hanna Schygulla, haunted by the ghosts of those she loved

PortraitThe muse of Rainer Werner Fassbinder plays in “Peter von Kant”, the new film by François Ozon, fifty years after having fascinated in the original version of the German director. A role in the form of a return to the past for the 78-year-old actress.

Hanna Schygulla, in Paris, May 6, 2022.

Vertigo of time. In 1972, Hanna Schygulla embodied the beauty of the devil in Petra von Kant’s Bitter Tears by Rainer Werner Fassbinder. She plays a model who has come to disturb the cruel camera that Petra, a fashion designer, imposes on her painkiller assistant. At 28, the actress is then at the dawn of her career. For a decade, until the filmmaker’s death, their intellectual, sulphurous and committed duo reigned over European auteur cinema with sixteen emblematic films from Germany of the time, cut in two by the Berlin Wall, haunted by terrorism and the wounds of war.

Fifty years later, Fassbinder continues to fascinate his successors, including François Ozon. Water drops on hot stones, his third film, released in 2000, was an adaptation of a play by the German director. On July 6, he did it again with Peter von Kant, his twenty-first feature film, a version freely inspired by Bitter tears. In the glamorous atmosphere of the seventies, theatrically recreated, Petra has become Peter, a despotic director played by Denis Ménochet, excellent as a supercharged drama queen. Karin, ex-Schygulla, has become Amir, a demi-god of unreal beauty. Isabelle Adjani, on whom time seems to slip, embodies an ageless diva, lookalike of Marlene Dietrich. Hanna Schygulla jumps back in time as Peter’s mother. Her heavy figure and her wrinkles fill the screen. “It’s like a remake of myself, very strange”, she observes.

Appreciated at the Berlin Film Festival

Before embarking on the project, Denis Ménochet, 45, did not know Hanna Schygulla. And the name Fassbinder, like those of his generation, evoked to him saturated Technicolor imagery and austere scripts. By immersing himself in films, he understood the power of their cinema. On set, between “the two icons” Adjani and Schygulla, Ménochet felt seized more than once by a feeling of imposture. “With them, all it takes is one look to realize that it’s not right. I often wondered what I was doing there, she amused. But, in the end, it helped me to let go, I couldn’t do things by halves. »

In February, during the screening of Ozon’s film at 72e Berlin Festival, where Fassbinder had shown his Bitter Tears by Petra von Kant half a century earlier, the actor measured the fame of Hanna Schygulla. Absent due to Covid-19, she was given a standing ovation for long minutes by a room of 800 people. The next day, the actor called her, giving her the film’s affectionate nickname: “Mutti, you are still in the heart of Germany! » On the phone, Hanna Schygulla responded with her femme fatale laugh.

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