Film Peter von Kant1 directed by François Ozon (France, 2022, 85 minutes) is an interesting interpretation of Fassbinder’s Die bitteren Tränen der Petra von Kant (West Germany, 1972, 124 minutes). With the switch of sex (sometimes called gender) of the personal name in the title, attention is put on a relation between two males from pretty different generations.
Unintentionally (?), the film also deals with intimate distresses which are independent of sexual orientation, but very dependent on our integration in an environment. This interdependence is pointed out by the pragmatic words of Peter’s lover Amir, that if you are not a part of the system, you are quickly discarded. This line, the only clearer connection of the film to the social context, also reflects the phenomenon of the relegation of tenderness, its alleged anachronism and condemnation to abolition.
To be involved in systemic hegemony (to act “included”, actually obedient, to sacrifice the creativity of not acting in the service of something that presents itself as superior by nature) means to agree to (self)disembodiment—the disembodiment of relationships or the final alienation of the sensual and emotional—widely supported by media and biotechnological means. The key driver of this alienation is the technical visualization of relationships and procedures (via online chat, remote meetings, social networks and applications as substitutes for live socialization), or the reduction of direct and physical contact, in which the verbal and visual aspects are not separated from the tactile ones—hug, greeting, kiss, seduction, group dynamics, random encounters in public space.
In the increasingly virtual environment of everyday life (of many who accept progressive mediatization) there is an elimination or a chronic deficit of the very idea, manifestation and performance of tenderness as economically “useless”, non-cashable and to the slavery hierarchy dangerous phenomenon. Its withdrawal from the public space simplifies and accelerates its erasure from the individual’s intimacy.
Just as in the corporate media landscape—intertwined with so-called public media—it has already been declared that war is peace, they also promote it should be accepted that distance (distrust) towards a fellow human being is actually love, even if only for oneself; that the ethics of callousness are self-evident; that the totality of administrative subjugation of any vitality is a norm (is normal); that empathy is redundant because expertise is sufficient; that intelligence is unnecessary because we have the artificial one.
The increasingly obvious deficit of tenderness in the current social regression—during the convulsive efforts of Western imperialism to completely globalize itself and even colonize space—is the result of the constant building of fear (of infections, diseases, natural disasters, wars, refugees, aliens, bears, communism, etc.) and accepting to be afraid. Bullying (fear), which, by the way, also causes a decrease of the intelligence level over time, is the modus operandi of the hollywoodized and militarized consumer fairy tale. The operation of neuro-programming of fear, or the persistent glorification of the aesthetics of death, is one of the fundamental functions of the film and television industry. Grotesque blockbusters and serials may have a frightening-anesthetic effect wherever they can reach, although their influence is less than it used to be, due to the dispersion of attention to Internet media and online networks.
In his novel Besnilo (the title in English is Rabies) from 1981, Borislav Pekić writes:
“Don’t be afraid. Fear is the disease that causes all diseases. /…/ Fear is the plague of this world”.
Unlike the proponents of Hollywood’s overbearing commercial void, in which death is merely a bare threat on the viewer’s path to schizophrenia, minority filmmakers take mortality much more seriously. They understand it as an equal part of an individual’s life (in a community!) and can therefore film it in a symbolic/projective sense and on various levels of author poetics (contemplative, socio-critical, abstract, experimental, surreal or humorous, as well as on intermediate levels).
Necro-aesthetics is primarily totalizing (in the service of the monopoly of entertainment and infotainment images, for example horror films, i.e. in the service of the spectacle as a socially emptied and hopeless space), while the aesthetics of understanding/knowing Thanatos can be liberating when it is embedded in a creative πoιησις beyond the buying and selling schism, into art as a way of life and vice versa.
The challenge of tenderness arises not only from its alleged anachronism, but also from its asymptomatic nature. Thus, in parallel with the external alienating (repressive, biotechnological, aestheticizing, neutralizing) factors that constantly displace it, often inexplicable and invisible (uncontrollable) internal processes also take place, from which it can be understood that the body (corporeality) persistently resists the imposed bot-logic or any automation.
So, regardless of the obsessive introducing of new and new machine identification methods, such as facial recognition, they just cannot get to the core of the invisible, of the potent, and it will be like that forever. Our most precious film creations talk about or rely on this lively invisible, for example Čavka by Miloš Radivojević (Jackdaw, Yugoslavia/Serbia, 1988, 94 minutes) and Pohvala svetu by Slobodan Šijan (Praise to the World, Yugoslavia/Serbia, 1976, 30 minutes). The adjective our emphasizes that these are creations that are undoubtedly and consciously embedded in the common, the common to which an automation of the sensual is foreign, and tenderness is self-evidently important.
In Peter von Kant, the collective-intimate complex is so to speak overlooked (not made conscious). Accordingly, the visual treatment of intimacy is (from a conceptual viewpoint) castrated or disconnected from the conditions in which exploitation prevails. This is possible when the buying and selling side of life is understood as self-evident and unalterable. The whole picture is characteristically Western: segmentally analytical or merely symptomatic, and highly dramatized, but not situated (not consciously put in the here-now situation). Consolation for hopelessness is material security, even if uncertain. In such films the image of intimacy cannot be (conceptually) potent, as it usually dilutes in a narrative.
The mise-en-scène is consequently framed in itself (in a narrative without surprises), not because the action does not move from an interior (studio), but because of the minimization of the importance of external circumstances or the exterior, which certainly affects the pathology of intimacy. They are, however, manifested indirectly, as an intergenerational gap that seems terminal: the younger lover behaves selfishly and almost soullessly, while the elder one is already “astray” as his infatuation is strongly glued to the unresolved family pathology that defines him as hysterics. Thus, Peter in his incurable powerlessness actually speaks about the issue of aging during the rule of the cult of youth2—the aging of an artist working within many limitations of the possibility of affirmation of an artwork, or an individual who agrees to general occupation of life. The film speaks, but does not paint a more complex picture of the issue.
The typical Western film/art production, understandably, never (truly) deals with the context, with the community context from which the occupation dimension of reality would be evident, but prefers to paint it colorfully and partially replace it with virtual reality, the poetics of hopelessness or some other (trendy, fascinating, hyped) self-referential aesthetics. The implementation of these substitutes is a condition for entry into the film distribution/sales system, in which festivals are key to popularization.
Thematic festivalization strengthens the ghettoization of artistic expression and the audience, which in the long run results in mainstreaming. A certain financial security is guaranteed to the organizers of festivals and projects, while financial support for filmmakers depends heavily on the closed-in-field—never really public—funds and foundations. Intimist films within such (financial) power distribution often show us the obscure psychological side of the property logic embedded in the film-as-a-product phenomenon, and at the same time reflect the privatization of the label “LGBT” as a banal genre label (placed in the official vocabulary of market economy, culture and science in a way that actually does not affirm liberation).
The more festivals that show “diversity” under a specific thematic label (migrations, environment, human rights, etc.), the less important that label is. “LGBT” thus increasingly reflects the hyper-sexualization of the media/spectacle landscape, in which sexuality is omnipresent, but only as reduced to a tempting bait that is supposed to ensure a response from viewers/buyers.
By trivializing and inflating sexuality in all visual media, from advertisements to films, voyeurism is glorified as just one of its dimensions, at the expense of all others. The effect of this is the desexualization of the common during the emptying of public space, which should only be a sterile environment for the presentation aimed in itself.
The phenomenon is also manifested through aggressive appropriation of unclassified physical spaces of (artistic) creation and gathering. Public space is thus becoming more and more robbed of its seductive dimension, mystery, unpredictability, changeability, spontaneity and relaxation capability. The purging of unwanted content is unskillfully masked by the cultural industry managers, with their rhetoric of respecting the public interest and by redesigning of street spaces, squares, street furniture, important buildings, parks and public lighting, while installing newest surveillance achievements everywhere.
The attitude towards sexuality determines the key quality of film creation. Sexuality is understood, articulated and also admired as an attraction (directly intertwined with the mental, instinctual and emotional side of every being) in these author’s works that go beyond the limitations of genre, distribution and censorship (subordination of creativity to managerialism)—as something that can trigger a complex insight into the existential beyond, with which film contributes to exploration, preservation and enrichment of community bonds.
The attraction of sexuality (created by film, video and performative speech) does not affirm an empty “otherness”, but always alludes to the sexuality of the essentially same beings, which means that it does not aestheticize a fictitious diversity (within the “rule of law” diligently canonized by the green-left liberal-conservatives—career activists, fake anarchists, conscience-washing institutes and scored scholars), but instead opens up a space of sameness for everyone.
The tenderness immanent to sexuality is possible only when we withdraw from the aggressive aesthetics of censorship (do not contribute to it), because only then can we restore the severed common or build a new one and enable the life of the sameness (in us)—achievable only during practicing of tenderness (instead of the empty politeness) towards oneself and others.
In the (film’s) existential beyond, freed from aesthetic burden or predetermined laws (of narrative, genre, style, popularity), it is possible to see anima in all its tenderness. Films and other works of art with this quality are today mostly in archives, more rarely at festivals. Fortunately, during the disintegration of the West-centric distribution and selection monopoly—like every empire, the current one is also collapsing in on itself, in the dramatic style of the demolition of its WTC twins—, such films-attractions are quite freely accessible and thus also freed from the classification burden and irrelevant labeling.
1 It was a part of the Ljubljana LGBT Film Festival 2022, and screened in Slovene Cinematheque.
2 The widely promoted imperative to stay young relates only with the bodily being (specifically, only with the visible, presentative, external body aspects), while the youth’s (adolescent’s) internal (soulful) capacities, especially the rebel instinct, are consciously suppressed by apparatuses (by those who work in their favor, including parents and teachers).