The Auteurs: François Ozon
One of the key figures to emerge from the new wave of French directors in the 1990s, François Ozon is a filmmaker who refuses to be pegged into any one genre. The openly gay bad boy of French cinema, Ozon’s talent and ambition has made him one of France’s top filmmakers. He continuously refines his approach to storytelling by shifting back-and-forth between serious films and ones more spirited in tone. This has helped Ozon to cultivate a fiercely devoted following amongst cinephiles.
Born on November 15, 1967 in Paris, France, Ozon’s education into the world of film began in the mid-1980s at the prestigious La Femis film school in Paris. At the time French cinema was still thriving but hadn’t managed to create much excitement in the aftermath of the French New Wave movement. During his studies at La Femis, Ozon discovered the films of Douglas Sirk, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Pedro Almodóvar. These directors, coupled with the emerging gay and lesbian cinema that was coming out of the U.S. independent film scene, had a profound impact on Ozon.
He began honing his craft as a filmmaker through a series of short films that often took an absurd slant on human sexuality. Ozon’s 1996’s short Une robe d’ete (A Summer Dress) followed a troubled homosexual relationship that ultimately was rejuvenated in unexpected ways. His 1999 short X2000 , which revolved around the aftermath of the Millennium, showcased his ability to play in genres such as suspense and horror. Theses shorts helped to establish Ozon from other emerging French filmmakers such as Olivier Assayas and Jean-Pierre Jeunet.
See the Sea (review)
In 1997, Ozon made a 52-minute short that revolved around an Englishwoman, on holiday with her baby, who unexpectedly encounters an introverted drifter. See the Sea marked Ozon’s first collaboration with two individuals that became amongst his regular collaborators. The first being Marina de Van in the role of the drifter. She would go on to co-write several of Ozon’s screenplays. The next was cinematographer Yorick Le Saux whose colorful images became a staple in Ozon’s select group of cinematographers. The short ended up being very well received on the festival circuit.
After a decade of making shorts, Ozon made the transitioned to feature film with a black-comedy about a normal family whose life unravels following the purchase of a white lab rat. Sitcom played with the conventions of the typical family structure. Inspired by some of the works of Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini, Ozon used the rat as a device to push the notion of family in unexpected directions.
The cast included some notable names in French cinema like Evelyne Dandry and Francois Martouret as the parents. Marina de Van played the role of their upbeat daughter who becomes obsessed with sadomasochism and death. Marina brought in her brother Adrien to play her nerdy brother on screen. Sitcom not only poked fun at American sitcoms but also strived to provoke people into disgust. An example of this comes when Dandry’s character tries to cure her son’s sudden homosexuality by sleeping with him.
The controversial nature of Sitcom fit perfectly with the New French Extremity movement that was emerging in French cinema. The film played various film festivals around Europe and the U.S. It garnered Ozon a following within the gay and lesbian film scene.
Criminal Lovers (review)
Ozon’s sophomore feature not only furthered his status as France’s “l’enfant terrible,” but also showcased his diversity as a filmmaker. He, Marina de Van, and a couple of other writers collaborated on a script that was a strange mash-up of Hansel & Gretel meets Natural Born Killers. Criminal Lovers revolved around a young teenage couple, played by Natacha Regnier and Jeremie Renier, who kill a classmate over an alleged rape he committed. While on the run in the forest, the pair is abducted by a mysterious woodsman (Miki Manojlović) who proceeds to seduce Renier’s character.
Inspired by the works of poet Arthur Rimbaud, Ozon and his co-writers took a non-linear approach to the script. Much of Criminal Lovers was shot in the mountains and forests in France. This helped Ozon and his new collaborators, costume designer Pascaline Chavanne, sound editor Benoit Hillebrant and music composer Philippe Rombi, to give the film an unsettling and intense tone. This was especially noticeable in his approach to the sex and violence. Criminal Lovers played various international film festivals for most of 1999.
Water Drops on Burning Rocks (review)
After two films that played with dark themes of the New French Extremity movement, Ozon decided it was time to reinventing himself. He found inspiration in the 1966 play Tropfen auf heisse Steine written by German filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Set in Germany, the story followed the troubled relationship between 50-something Leopold and his 20 year-old lover Franz. Their intense relationship gets further complicated when their former lovers enter the picture.
Veteran French actor Bernard Giraurdeau and newcomer Malik Zidi were cast in the respective roles of Leopold and Franz. Ozon brought in American character actress Anna Levine to play the role of Leopold’s former lover Vera. While newcomer Ludivine Sagnier took the role of Franz’s former fiancee Anna. Water Drops on Burning Rocks, marked the first of three films that Sagnier made with Ozon. Though most of his crew remained the same, the addition of cinematographer Jeanne Lapoirie helped to raise Ozon’s visual aesthetic thanks to the way she approached lighting in scenes.
While the film is largely a drama, Ozon included a campy dance number in the film’s fourth act to express the major disconnect between Franz and Leopold. It was a creative choice that further hinted to Ozon’s versatility as a director. Water Drops on Burning Rocks made its premiere at the 2000 Berlin Film Festival where it won the Teddy Award for Best Gay/Lesbian film. The film also won a best feature prize at The Gay/Lesbian Film Festival in New York City. While reviews were mixed, the film hinted towards Ozon taking a drastic step in his filmmaking career.
Under the Sand (review)
For his fourth feature film Ozon decided to explore the theme of death through a loosely connected trilogy. Under the Sand, the first film of the trilogy, revolved around a middle-aged woman named Marie dealing with the sudden disappearance of her husband while on their vacation. Since no body is found, Marie is left to wonder if he has drowned, committed suicide, or simply left her? The film explored the denial and confusion that often comes with grief and loss.
Ozon picked veteran English actress Charlotte Rampling to play Marie as he wanted an actress with experience for the role. Rampling was a major figure in cinema who appeared in such films like Richard Lester’s The Knack… and How to Get It, the 70s cult film Vanishing Point, Luchino Visconti’s film The Damned, Liliana Cavani’s very controversial film The Night Porter, and Sidney Lumet’s 1982 courtroom drama The Verdict. Ozon got veteran French actors Bruno Cremer and Jacques Nolot to play roles of Marie’s husband and a family friend respectively. Nolot’s character in particular would become instrumental in the affair Marie has in the second act of the film.
Under the Sand played the festival circuit in late 2000 before being released in France a year later. Ozon’s understated direction and Charlotte Rampling’s performance received excellent reviews. At the 2002 Cesars, Under the Sand was nominated for Best Film, Best Director, and Best Actress. It marked a major triumph for Ozon. Yet, the biggest praise that Ozon received was from the legendary Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, who watched Under the Sand numerous times before his passing in 2007.
8 Women (review)
With the new clout he received, Ozon opted to change gears and film an adaptation of Robert Thomas’ 1958 play Huit Femmes. A whodunit set in a home in France, the story focused on an eccentric family of women and their maids who all become suspects when the patriarch is found dead. Adapting the script written by Marina de Van, Ozon’s take on the film was a musical that paid homage to both screwball comedies and the works of Douglas Sirk, Vincente Minnelli, and Alfred Hitchcock.
For the film’s cast, Ozon wanted nothing but the best that French cinema had to offer. Fortunately he got what he wanted as 8 Women featured the talents of Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Fanny Ardant, Firmine Richard, Danielle Darrieux, Emmanuelle Beart, Ludivine Sagnier and Virginie Ledoyen. Ozon had hoped to secure legendary French star Alain Delon to play the only man role in the film. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out as the production had to start earlier than anticipated due to Ledoyen’s pregnancy.
When it came to the musical numbers, Sagnier, Ledoyen, and Beart got to tackle the upbeat songs. Ardant and Deneuve were given mid-tempo pieces, while the rest of the cast sung ballads. 8 Women premiered at the 2002 Berlin Film Festival where it won the Reader Jury prize and the Silver Bear Prize for Outstanding Artistic Achievement. The film was a major hit with the critics and gave Ozon some of his best international box office numbers.
Swimming Pool (review)
After achieving international recognition Ozon’s next film was a British-French co-produced thriller entitled Swimming Pool. A story that expanded on many of the themes touched on in Ozon’s 1997 short film Regarde la mer. The film focused on an English writer, Sarah Morton (Charlotte Rampling), who stays at her publisher’s country home in France only to received an unexpected visit from publisher’s wild daughter Julie (Ludivine Sagnier).
The tension rises between the two women as their paths frequently intersect at the swimming pool. In many ways the swimming pool becomes a character in the film. Despite the trouble that the women find themselves in, they ultimately benefit from each other. Sarah finds a muse in Julie, while Julie finds the mother figure in Sarah that she has been craving since her youth. This bond between the women, and the way Ozon plays up the Julie’s sexuality, leads to an ambiguous and controversial ending.
Swimming Pool premiered at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival and was a major hit. It received limited releases in the U.S. and U.K. that year and was the toast of art-house theaters. Ozon had to make a few minor cuts for the film’s U.S. release to avoid a NC-17 rating. The film not only confirmed Ozon’s status as one of France’s top filmmakers but also made Sagnier an international star.
Ozon once again changed gears for his next film 5×2, a melodrama about a marriage unraveling. Covering five key moments in a couples relationship, the story is told backwards from the day the couple divorced all the way to the day they first met. Inspired by Jane Campion’s 1986 TV film Two Friends, the screenplay was designed in a way that put the onus on the audience to decipher what led to the demise of the couple’s relationship.
Gathering the same team he had for the past few films, Ozon shot the film primarily in France. He enlisted Italian-French actress Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi to play the role of Marion, while Stephane Freiss was cast as her husband Gilles. Veteran French actor Michael Lonsdale made a special appearance in the film as Marion’s father. The strong performances by the cast gave the film an authentic feel. It not only forced the audience to pick a side, but also question if they are truly backing the right individual.
Editor Monica Coleman, who had edited Ozon’s last film, ensured that each of the five sequences fit nicely into twenty minute segments. Ozon and Coleman also created an alternate version of the film that was released exclusively on Region 2 DVDs. 5×2 made its premiere at the 2004 Venice Film Festival where Valeria Bruni-Keechi won the Best Actress prize. While it didn’t achieve the international success of his previous films, 5×2 was hit on film festival circuit.
Time to Leave (review)
The experience of making 5×2 gave Ozon the opportunity to return to the loosely-based death trilogy that he had begun years ago with Under the Sand. Time to Leave focused on a photographer named Romain (Melvil Poupaud) who must face his mortality after discovering that he has only three months live. The film juxtaposes Romain’s selfishness in the final months with the lives of those who he might be able to help in some fashion.
Ozon took a very minimalist and elliptical approach to Time to Leave. The pacing deliberately played into the notion of time slowing down for someone that is about to die. Ozon reunited with cinematographer Jeanne Lapoirie for the shoot. However, the film’s biggest coup was getting the legendary actress Jeanne Moreau to appear in the film as Romain’s trusted grandmother Laura.
The film premiered in May of 2005 at the Cannes Film Festival where it was another hit for the director. It continued his winning streak with both critics and audiences all over the world.
After doing a short film called A Curtain Raiser in 2006, Ozon made his first English-language film. The film was an adaptation of Elizabeth Taylor’s, the writer not the actress, 1957 novel entitled Angel. The story revolved around a young woman’s desire to succeed as a writer while becoming more and more detached from reality. Romola Garai was cast in titular role, while the talented supporting included Charlotte Rampling, Lucy Russell, Sam Neill, and Michael Fassbender.
Ozon infused his period melodrama with a lot of style and substance. He played into Angel creative and romantic mind by blurring the lines between surrealism and reality. The fantastical and surreal first half is balanced by the harsh times that World War I brought. Ozon uses the latter to symbolize the decline in both Angel’s work and in the world around her.
Angel premiered at the 2007 Berlin Film Festival that February and Romola Garai received much praise for her performance. The film divided critics and audiences in Europe. Angel had difficult time securing distribution in the U.S. and only managed to get a very limited release. Despite its supporters, many saw it as a failure of sorts for Ozon.
Following the mixed reaction of Angel, Ozon took a break and returned to France to think about possible new projects. He eventually decided on Ricky, a film about a couple gaining a new child. Light-hearted in tone, the fact that the mysterious baby the couple received has angel wings only further adds to the complications that come with parenthood.
The film starred Alexandra Lamy and Spanish actor Sergi Lopez in the role of the couple, with Melusine Mayance playing Lamy’s young daughter. For the titular role of Ricky, Ozon auditioned a lot of babies and eventually chose Arthur Peyret. The challenging shoot marked Ozon’s last collaboration with cinematographer Jeanne Lapoirie. Though Ozon was upset that the film was marketed as a comedy, Ricky was released in early 2009. While the film received mixed receptions, it showed that Ozon was unafraid to take risks.
Le Refuge (review)
Once again exploring the theme of death, Ozon’s next work tackled a pregnant woman, named Mousse, coping with the death of her lover. Wanting to isolate herself from the world, she encounters her lover’s gay brother at a beachside residence. The two share their grief as well as comprehend the future of the baby.
Understated in tone, Le Refuge reunite Ozon with Melvil Poupaud who took the small role of the Mousse’s lover Louis. Isabelle Carre was cast as Mousse and Louis-Ronan Choisy got the role of Louis’ gay-brother Paul. Choisy also provided the film‘s score. Le Refuge made its premiere in the fall of 2009 at the Toronto International Film Festival. The film received excellent reviews and Ozon won a special jury prize San Sebastián International Film Festival in Spain.
In another attempt to not repeat himself, Ozon’s next film was an ambitious comedy set in the 1970s. Adapted from the play by Pierre Barillett and Jean-Pierre Gredy, Potiche revolved around a trophy wife who takes over her husband’s umbrella business much to the dismay and ignorance of her family. The film not only explored a woman coming into her own, but also touched on an era of where women were making strides towards further equality in the world.
Potiche reunited Ozon with Catherine Deneuve and Jeremie Renier who played the roles Suzanne Pujol and her son Laurent respectively. The rest of the cast included the legendary Gerard Depardieu, Fabrice Luchini, Judith Godreche, Karin Viard, Evelyn Dandry, and a cameo appearance from Sergi Lopez. The inclusion of Depardieu marked a reunion of sorts with Deneuve whom had appeared together in Francois Truffaut’s 1980 film The Last Metro.
Since the film took place in the late 1970s, Ozon aimed for an upbeat and kitschy fell for the tone. However, he also ensured that it did not take away from the political and cultural divide of the time. Potiche premiered at the 2010 Venice Film Festival and went on to be a big hit critically and commercially.
In the House (review)
Ozon’s followed-up Potiche with an adaptation of Juan Mayorga’s play The Boy in the Last Row. The story centered on a literature teacher, Germain (Fabrice Luchini), who gets drawn into his 16-year old student’s, Claude (Ernst Umhauer), trangressive story about a relationship with a friend’s family. By encouraging his young student to become a better writer, the teacher finds the lines between reality and fiction blurred.
The film explored how Germain and Claude’s shared fascination with literature shaped their relationship. At one point Germain blames himself for pushing Claude into the activities that the boy writes about. Claude’s writings also lead to a subplot regarding Germain’s wife (Kristin Scott Thomas) who uses his words as a distraction from her failing art gallery.
In the House premiered at the 2012 Toronto Interational Film Festival and was well-received by audiences and critics. The film went on to win the Golden Seashell, the top prize at the San Sebastian International Film Festival in Spain, and was a massive hit commercially. Many cited it as one of Ozon’s best films.
Young & Beautiful (review)
Young & Beautiful marked Ozon’s return to the themes of youth which he had addressed in is earlier films. The coming-of-age tale explored a young teenager’s sexual exploration, including learning the art of seduction, through her year long stint as a prostitute. The film highlighted the young woman’s struggles trying to deal with the ramifications of her secret life.
Ozon chose newcomer Marine Vacth for the lead role of Isabelle. Geraldine Pailhas was cast as Isabelle’s mother and Frederic Pierrot as her stepfather. Ozon asked Charlotte Rampling to make an appearance in the film, their fourth collaboration together, in a pivotal scene towards the end of the film.
Young & Beautiful premiered at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival where it received an excellent reception from fans and critics. After playing several film festivals, the film was released in theatres internationally in the spring of 2014.
The New Girlfriend
Ozon’s next film that is slated for a fall 2014 release and will be an adaptation of Ruth Rendell’s novel The New Girlfriend. The plot involves a young woman who, while coping with the death of her friend, finds solace in her friend’s husband. The film will star Romain Duris, Anais Demoustier, and Raphael Personnaz. With fourteen feature films under his belt, and one on the way, François Ozon has already cultivated an impressive career. He is a filmmaker that brings voices to an array of people without relying on stereotypes. Whether he is focusing on homosexuality, teenagers, or women, Ozon always finds something interesting to say. It is why François Ozon is one of the world’s finest filmmakers.
© thevoid99 2014