November 15, 1967– François Ozon is the Paris born filmmaker who has achieved the unlikely title of leader for a movement known as the New French Extremism Queer Cinema. That’s quite the moniker.
He brings an acerbic wit and sly sexuality to his eclectic films, most of which have gay themes, gay characters, but always a gay sensibility, and he almost always includes characters who are bisexuals, transsexuals or about to decide. They also always feature strong, well-drawn female characters. Ozon:
“I do feel more comfortable writing a character for a woman. When I write a character for a man I have this feeling of being in front of myself or looking in a mirror. There is a lot of pleasure in working with women. Very often they are more pleasurable and easier to work with than men.”
My favorite of his films is the dark murder mystery musical 8 Femmes (2002) featuring a smart collection of France’s most fascinating leading ladies: Danielle Darrieux, Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Emmanuelle Béart, Fanny Ardant, Virginie Ledoyen and Ludivine Sagnier.
Set in a colorful 1950s Gaelic world, this very original film feels as if the films of George Cukor, Rainer Fassbinder and Alfred Hitchcock had been put in a cinematic blender and poured into a great big bowl of Douglas Sirk.
In 5×2 (2004), the life a happy gay couple is used to contrast the unhappiness of an attractive straight couple in a relationship that is falling apart using five key scenes from their relationship told in reverse order and punctuated by five different Italian love songs.
In the gorgeous, lush, erotic, Hitchcockian Swimming Pool (2003), Charlotte Rampling, in one of her best performances, plays a character who becomes a younger woman’s reluctant caregiver and voyeur.
Most of Ozon’s films are under 90 minutes long with a tight focus. At just an hour long, Time To Leave (2005) is about a young gay photographer with terminal cancer who pushes everyone away, including his family and boyfriend. It features a great performance by the legendary Jeanne Moreau as his grandmother, the only person who can reach him.
In the screwball farce Potiche (2010), Deneuve plays a submissive wife who gets to run her reactionary husband’s umbrella factory after he suffers a heart attack from the stress of his workers’ strike for higher wages. She turns out to be a natural leader whose management style inspires both her workers and a liberal politician played by Gérard Depardieu. It’s a wacky 1970s set comedy with an affectionate comment on the indomitable spirit of the French people.
Une Nouvelle Amie (2014), released in the USA as The New Girlfriend, is the story of a man who recently lost his wife and now embraces his own female personality just as his late wife’s best friend begins to dress as a man.
It takes director as bold as Ozon to take on remake of an Ernst Lubitsch film, his current film does just that. Frantz borrows from Lubutch’s Broken Lullaby (1932), itself based on Maurice Rostand’s play, L’homme Que J’ai Tué (1925). Broken Lullaby is a mostly forgotten movie and a rare Lubutch drama. It is about of a young Frenchman just after WW I, traveling to Germany to meet the parents and fiancée of a soldier that he has killed in the war, but now claims whom to have been friends in Paris. Frantz revisits Ozon’s frequent themes: the bounds of friendship and the idea of women coming into their own. It is in black and white and the trailer is stunning.
Orzon gives Fassbinder as one of his biggest influences:
“Fassbinder makes very different movies. He does not always try to create a masterpiece but to create a body of work and he works with the same actors. It’s these things that made me think that I could make a film. When you see this kind of smaller film it is an inspiration.”
Like Fassbinder, he chooses to use the same actors over and over. Ozon also finds inspiration in the Hollywood melodramas of Douglas Sirk:
“I actually came to Sirk through Fassbinder. Both Fassbinder and Godard wrote about him at a time when he was considered very old fashioned. People thought that Sirk made silly American melodramas. But I saw them as something more than guilty pleasures.”
Ozon has been courted by Hollywood but he continues to decline the offers:
“In America, film is not about art or culture. It’s a business. So they make movies for teenagers, because it’s easier. And they have a different way of working. The producer does not direct the film, but they do make all of the decisions. The director is a technician more than an artist. I don’t want to work that way. I don’t feel the necessity of losing my soul.”
Ozon is very handsome. He is quite prolific, writing and directing 35 films in 25 years. He is very coy about his private life in the press, dig as I might. He might even possibly be single. I wanted to celebrate him today on his birthday after considering the horrible week and all of the frighting news. His films take on the issue of identity and today I appreciate his very French-ness and his bold take on the art of film, something the French more or less invented and do so well.