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August 28, 1998 2:00 AM
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Francois Ozon Teases and Pleases with "See the Sea" and "A Summer's Dress"

Francois Ozon Teases and Pleases with "See the Sea" and "A Summer's Dress"

by Anthony Kaufman




Francois Ozon's two short films, "See the Sea" and "A Summer Dress" are
so sharp and entertaining that U.S. distributor Zeitgeist Films is
releasing them together today to fit a standard theatrical exhibition
time (although it still runs only 67 minutes). A virtually unheard of
practice in the history of U.S. distribution, the release of Ozon's
double bill is a remarkable feat for a director, from France or
anywhere.


In Ozon's 52-minute featurette "See the Sea," which won a Best Film
Award at New York's New Festival, a young mother, Sasha, waits in her
secluded cottage for her husband to return from business. When Tatiana,
a grungy camper pitches her tent in the backyard, Sasha begins to rely
on the slovenly stranger for company and the tension builds to a brutal
conclusion. Screening after "See the Sea" is Ozon's "A Summer Dress,"
which played to acclaim at numerous film festivals worldwide. Much
lighter in tone, it portrays a young gay man's sexual experiences with a
strange woman he meets on the beach and his subsequent return to his
lover.


Despite Ozon's mere 31 years of age, he is manipulating, amusing and
horrifying like a Hitchcock in-the-making. With "Sitcom," his first
full-length feature having premiered at Critics Week at this year's
Cannes FIlm Festival, and another shooting this summer, the prolific
French director
is one to watch. indieWIRE met with Ozon in New York during the New
Directors/New Films festival and again at Cannes where he declared of
his fellow filmmakers, "There's not enough risk-taking."


indieWIRE: In talking to some French directors, it seems that if you
want to make a movie in France, you really can. Do you find this to be
true?


Ozon: Actually, going to the FEMIS school [the national film school]
gave me the opportunity to make three or four shorts. And the shorts
were seen and circulated quite a lot, so then I could apply for
funding. There's a way to get support in order to make a movie with
little means. There is a whole economy of making shorts in France,
people are willing to work for free, knowing that if there's a feature
coming afterwards, then they will be called again. So, for those
reasons, it's may be easier in France because of that circulation of
shorts.


iW: Are a lot of the people making feature films now coming out of
FEMIS?


Ozon: Not so many. The FEMIS has a reputation of making more
intellectual work and less large audience fare.


iW: Do you consider your film intellectual?


Ozon: No, I don't think so. I hope that there will be different levels
of reading it. That it will trigger a reaction from any kind of
audience, an audience that is not very informed about films. And of
course, someone who is very informed will have a different reaction,
recognizing influences right away. But the horror and the fear and the
suspense works on anyone.


iW: Now are these two films playing in France the same way they are
here?


Ozon: Yes.


iW: That's extremely rare in America. I can't think of an example where
two short films are distributed together.


Ozon: It's happening more in France now. It used to be very rare in
France also, but I think it's happening more because there are more
films that are not really short, like 45 minutes and small features, so
they are distributed together in this length.


[For a moment, Ozon, his translator, his publicist and I rally off names
of films and filmmakers who've had successful mid-length films at
festivals, but are stumped to find any short that received US
distribution.]


Ozon: Maybe I am the only one. Maybe they felt they could do it,
because there is another one ready that will be presented at Cannes, and
I am working on another one right now, so they felt that I am prolific
enough that they would be making money at some point.


iW: I do think that the French industry is much easier on their
filmmakers than we are in the States.


Ozon: Cinema really has the status of an art form in France, and
although there is a commercial aspect, it doesn't take over everything.
People know they have to make money on a film, but that isn't the
primary concern right away. It's not merely a commercial enterprise.
And there is a re-distribution policy within the CNC -- when a
commercial movie makes a lot of money, part of this has to be reinvested
into new movies. So, this is pretty strict. In a sense, movies keep on
being reinvested in other movies, so movies can keep getting made.


In American cinema, it feels quite remote from me. Filmmakers look like
they are quite controlled, and that some freedom is lost, so I am not
looking forward to that or working under those constraints. But at the
same time, I am fascinated with Clint Eastwood or Stephen Frears who've
managed to do something really personal under the constraints of major
companies.


iW: But you said earlier that you were influenced by American
directors? How and who?


Ozon: By classic American directors, like Hitchcock. And the film
directors who came to work in Hollywood like Max Ophuls and Jean
Renoir. Also, I like Tim Burton, too. Because he managed to render such
a strong universe in such a constrictive environment.


iW: When I interviewed Benoit Jacquot, he said to me that French cinema
is about intimacy. What do you think about that?


Ozon: Yes, but it is bit of a cliché as well as a reality. Actually,
this might be the limit of French cinema, that it needs to be larger
than intimacy and to do what Americans do in going beyond that. French
cinema shouldn't stay centered in that intransigent, inward look all the
time. It should project out. It doesn't project out enough. So
intimacy is both a strength and a limitation.


iW: I've always seen it as a strength, never a limitation,. Can you
explain why?


Ozon: Actually, this intimacy becomes only interesting when it becomes
almost obsessional. Like the first part of the film by Jacquot.


iW: Your film "Sea the Sea" feels like the work of an experienced
director -- very powerful and yet very minimal.


Ozon: I try to use the fact that my lack of means be turned into a
strength, and to turn what would appear as a financial constraint into
good ways to make short cuts in a narrative. That ended up making a
more powerful effect than if we had more money in the beginning. I have
a reputation of being cheap on filming. But it is because I want to use
that lack of means to be extreme with it and turn it upside down and
make it into a force.


iW: And what about being compared to such experienced directors as
Chabrol or Hitchcock?


Ozon: These are two filmmakers that I like very much to be compared to,
but more exactly, the themes might be closer to Chabrol, but the form
closer to Hitchcock.


iW: There is a frankness about sexuality in your film?


Ozon: I find that sexuality is . . . .This is where the challenge as a
director becomes stronger, because there is always the question about
where to put the camera, at what angle and where to set it. It's
actually more fun to shoot a sex scene than lover's dialogue.


iW: One particular camera choice is interesting behind that tree [where
a sex act is hidden from the viewer.]


Ozon: It's more the suggestion and the sensation, than up-front. More
to suggest feelings and emotions.


iW: You create more in the mind of the viewer, both in the sexuality and
the suspense?


Ozon: That is one my goals. To leave enough room for the audience to
make its own movie and to fill in the blanks in the narration. So that
there would be two films, the one that is on the screen and the one that
you make in your own mind.


iW: Can you talk about "Sitcom," your new film?


Ozon: It's very different from "See the Sea." What I tried to do is use
the concept of sitcoms, which I feel are pretty bad, but to use the
context and the technique, to fill with all the kinds of cinema that I
like. Like horror films, family dramas, suspense, and it's more
experimental. It's not a parody, either. It's trying to be serious in
the 50's, so that it would be like experimenting with different types of
narrations. As far as the differences go, I feel like I like to make
one film against the last one, so I wanted to get lighter and take
things into a lighter area, on the other hand, what's similar is the
manipulation of the audience, not showing certain things, and leaving
quite a bit up to the imagination.


iW: How was making "See the Sea" different?


Ozon: "See the Sea" was awful, because the actress was crazy. This was
the first time she made a film, she wanted to prove to me that she was
able to be evil. After the shooting, when we were all sleeping in the
same house, she was always the character. She was about to kill the
entire crew -- so it was very strange. But I love her, I used her again
in "Sitcom". In "See the Sea", it was a little bit of a documentary on
her, because she is very strange in life, and she has a very strange
face and she can be disagreeable with people, and this was a real
character. I found her in film school. She had shot her own film
about a father showing her how to do fellatio. The other film she made
was abut a girl who can't shit.


iW: Is "Sitcom" more sick than "See the Sea"?


Ozon: I hope so. I don't want to be considered normal. I want to put
my own stamp on things.


iW: And you're shooting another film?


Ozon: Going to be shot this summer, it's taken from a story and it's
about two criminal teenagers.


iW: I sense that there is a brutal element in all your works?


Ozon: Yes. What I am interested in is violence and sex, because there
is a real challenge in rendering the strong and powerful, as opposed to
the weak and trivial. I like something that asks moral questions.


iW: But "Summer Dress" isn't really brutal, is it?


Ozon: Well, one scene which the audience might not be expecting is the
two male lovers to have sex in such a way. And it's because of that
scene that the movie was made. It's a central scene. I don't really
know how American audiences will react.

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