Sara Hemrajani looks at Francois Ozon’s career in five films…
Francois Ozon is one of contemporary French cinema’s most celebrated auteurs. He’s a prolific filmmaker who releases a film nearly every year – however, the quantity doesn’t diminish the quality.
Ozon’s features are recognised for their impressive aesthetics, creative storytelling, excellent casting choices and interesting psychological observations.
His latest movie, Frantz, is a black and white Franco-German tale on loss and self-discovery in the wake of World War I. It’s decidedly more sombre and meditative than the rest of the 49-year-old’s oeuvre.
Ozon will also be returning to the Cannes Film Festival this month with The Double Lover (L’Amant Double), which is in competition for the Palme d’Or.
To mark Ozon’s status as an internationally renowned director, Flickering Myth takes a look at the five key films that have made his career.
8 Women (8 Femmes)
As the title suggests, this 2002 ensemble features eight distinct female characters. Set in 1950s France, 8 Women is about a family and their staff who gather in an isolated mansion for the Christmas season, but are then forced to call off the celebrations when they discover their patriarch has been murdered. Each woman is immediately labelled a suspect in the crime and secrets are revealed as the mystery unravels. It’s a deliciously frothy mix of scandal, betrayal and rivalries.
8 Women could also be considered one of Ozon’s most ambitious projects. The dark musical-comedy is designed to pay homage to the ‘women’s pictures’ and Technicolor films of old Hollywood. There’s a touch of George Cukor, Vincente Minelli, and even Alfred Hitchcock. On top of that, Ozon elicits fine performances from the grandes dames of contemporary French cinema – Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert and Fanny Ardant – as well as rising talents, such as Virginie Ledoyen and Ludivine Sagnier.
Swimming Pool (La Piscine)
Swimming Pool is often hailed as a standout in the category of sultry European holiday dramas. Charlotte Rampling plays Sarah Morton, a famous British author who accepts an offer from her publisher to take time off at his villa in the south of France. However, Sarah’s peaceful break is disrupted when the publisher’s daughter, Julie (Sagnier again), arrives out of the blue. Julie is a whirlwind of youthful insolence, recklessness and sexually charged behaviour. The tense and curious relationship between the two houseguests leads to some surprising plot twists.
Swimming Pool earned largely positive reviews on its release and remains a good example of Ozon’s engaging style, his unflinching eye and flair for creating compelling female roles.
In the House (Dans La Maison)
Ozon goes meta with In the House, a cheeky satire on reality, fiction and the art of storytelling. Middle-aged literature teacher Germain (Fabrice Luchini) is uninspired with his rowdy bunch of teenagers, but he soon spots raw talent in the form of Claude (Ernst Umhauer). 16-year-old Claude, a keenly observant loner, has written an essay about his efforts to ingratiate himself with a classmate named Rapha. Rapha (Bastien Ughetto) is a somewhat clueless boy and is spoilt by his loving parents – Claude has also taken a shine to his “yummy mummy”.
Unperturbed by the trajectory of Claude’s work, Germain encourages his pupil to be more daring and voyeuristic with his narrative. The question is whether the teacher truly believes the stories are the product of Claude’s imagination, or if he suspects any manipulative actions but turns a blind eye for the sake of artistic fulfilment.
Young and Beautiful (Jeune at Jolie)
Inspired by 1967’s Belle de Jour, Marine Vacth plays Isabelle, a 17-year-old student who becomes a call girl in an apparent attempt to explore her burgeoning sexuality. After an unsatisfactory summer fling, the no longer virginal teen returns to her comfortable home – and to school – but launches a side job as a prostitute. Her clients tend to be older businessmen with lunch hours and cash to burn.
In true Ozon fashion, Young and Beautiful is provocative and sleek, although the flimsy psychology means this coming-of-age drama is essentially more gloss than substance. With no real insights or explanations, Isabelle’s mindset and motives are frustratingly opaque. Still, this is clearly a subject that continues to intrigue as Steven Soderbergh’s TV series, The Girlfriend Experience, demonstrates.
Une Nouvelle Amie (The New Girlfriend)
It’s hard to describe the plot of this gender-bending comedy without revealing the twists and turns. What is safe to say is that The New Girlfriend tackles the themes of friendship, grief and the concepts of masculinity and femininity, with a healthy dose of humour and melodrama.
Anaïs Demoustier and Romain Duris deliver stellar performances as a woman and spouse trying to come to terms with the death of their best friend and wife, respectively. Each has their own method of mourning but Duris’s husband finds solace in a rather unconventional way.
Frantz opens in UK cinemas on May 12th.