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'Young & Beautiful' Director François Ozon on Writing for Women and Courting Controversy at Cannes

Photo of Nigel M Smith By Nigel M Smith | Indiewire April 24, 2014 at 1:11PM

The remarkably prolific French filmmaker François Ozon is back in theaters this Friday with the coming-of-age drama "Young & Beautiful" just a mere year after opening his last film, "In the House," theatrically in North America.
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Marine Vacth and Dir. François Ozon

The remarkably prolific French filmmaker François Ozon is back in theaters this Friday with the coming-of-age drama "Young & Beautiful" just a mere year after opening his last film "In the House" theatrically in North America. At 46, he's already completed a whopping 16 features, each so different from the next. From the campy old-Hollywood-style musical murder mystery "8 Women," to the sexually charged two-hander "Swimming Pool" to the quiet, introspective drama "Under the Sand," Ozon has proven he's as versatile as they come.

Gorgeous newcomer Marine Vacht headlines "Young & Beautiful" as Isabelle, a 17-year-old teenager who takes up prostitution as a hobby. Given the premise, it's no surprise the film courted controversy in Cannes when Ozon told The Hollywood Reporter "it's a fantasy of many women to do prostitution."

READ MORE:  A Teenage Girl Becomes a Prostitute in Trailer for François Ozon 'Young & Beautiful'

Indiewire sat down with Ozon in New York to discuss his rapid pace, what his controversial Cannes statement and writing for women.

Isabelle is hard to get a read on.

She's a mystery, that's what interested me. I wanted to show that when you are a teenager, you are very mysterious to other people. There's a kind of secret I wanted to tell. I wanted to play a game with the audience. I don't have one answer. She is many things. There's many reasons for her behavior. I wanted people not to judge her, but to try and understand her. For me she's like many teenagers -- they don't have the words to express themselves. Everything is changing in their bodies, and in their emotions. It's very difficult for them to communicate. That's something I had experienced when I was a teenager. I wanted to show that.

"Young & Beautiful"

So there's some of you in her.

Don't worry, I didn't do prostitution. That's what you wanted to know [laughs]. I have no nostalgia for it. For me, it was a terrible time, I didn't like it. I was quite upset when I saw French movies that said otherwise. I don't have any fond memories. I wanted to show the difficulty of this period. I was not able to say what happens inside. I didn't realize the violence of my emotions, of my desire. When you're a child you think your parents are heroes. When you realize they're not the heroes you made them out to be, it's a strong dissolution. I think that's something I really felt.

Why did you choose therefore to make the film about a young woman coming of age, and not a man?

The first idea was to do a film about a young boy. But if I did a movie about a young man discovering his sexuality through prostitution, it would be too heavy to have prostituion, homosexuality, etc. It was too much for the film. "In the House" was about a young male character, so this time I wanted to do a portrait of a young woman.

To me there is no big difference between male and female. Very often in my films you could change the sex of the character. What interests me was to show the power of this young woman. She knows her power, she knows her beauty and she uses it. It could be the same for a man.

How do you get into a woman's mind as a writer?

I think I’m more lucid portraying women because I don’t have the feeling it’s about me. Of course it’s about me, about my emotions, but it’s not like when I’m in front of the male character I have to be in front of a mirror. It’s more disturbing. With a woman, I’m more lucid. I have the feeling paradoxically to be more honest with myself and the female character. With the man, I try maybe to hide some personal things. And with a woman, because I am a man, it’s easier. It’s strange, but it’s like that.

At Cannes, you got some nasty press after making those comments to The Hollywood Reporter. Do you feel you were misquoted?

It was the last day of Cannes, you know how Cannes is. I was quite tired, I did so many interviews. I was very tired and drank a lot just before. I had no interpreter with me. That was the big deal. And I didn’t want to do the interview—but you know you have to do it, it’s the Hollywood Reporter, it’s important—I had the feeling the journalist liked the film, I’m not sure, but she was nervous about the fact that it was about prostitution and I didn’t express myself very well, I think. What I tried to say was just the fact that prostitution could be a fantasy. It could be a fantasy of men and women. Just a fantasy. And after I had the feeling that everybody transformed what I said and the context. What I tried to say was about the character of Charlotte Rampling who at the end of the film says, "I have always this fantasy, but I never did it." I wanted to say that every woman has this fantasy. So after I became a big mess. But it was quite funny for me, to see all this scandal about this one poor line I said. Because the film is not a polemic I think. Nobody acted polemic about the film. It was about what I said.

And so it was a big thing, and it was an interesting experience for me to see that suddenly I was the biggest macho of the world saying stupid things about women. I had the feeling that people didn’t understand about the fantasy, it doesn’t mean anyone will actually do it. You know you can have the fantasy to kill your father, to sleep with your brother or sister. It’s not murder to have fantasy. And suddenly you realize the period of today, you have to be politically correct about your fantasies too. You could be judged about what you want to do in your bed with someone. It’s amazing, but it’s the period of today. It’s interesting.

I was the new Lars von Trier, I should have spoken about Nazis too. Nazis and prostitution would have been bigger.

Have things settled down for you in France?

The film was released in August in France, and nobody talked to me about the polemic. It’s like that now. It’s one day, and then the day after everybody had turned the page. And everybody in front of me said it was ridiculous. It’s how it works with media, with technology, with Twitter—everybody has an opinion about everything. It’s the game of today. It can be dangerous. It can be really dangerous. You know I’m strong enough, and I know what I think and I knew it was not the thing….It’s interesting to see how it happens, these kind of things.

You complete your projects at such a rapid rate. What can you tell me about your next film, "The New Girlfriend"?

It’s a love story. "Young & Beautiful" is about sex. This time it will be about love. It will be a twisted love. It’s with Romain Duris. And the young actress who is amazing is Anais Demoustier, and Raphael Personnaz. It’s based on the short story by Ruth Rendell.

How do you keep this pace up?

Young & Beautiful

I like to do movies. I know for many of my friends who are directors, it’s a suffer to do movies. For me it’s always a pleasure. Actually, I suffer more when I don’t do movies. So if I could, I would do two films a year, but that’s all. After the ideas I don’t have problems with inspiration. After it’s the production, the money, but that’s difficulties. But because my films are very often low budgets and because my last movie was successful, it’s quite—not easy, but I’m able very fast to find the money to finance the films. A film like "Young & Beautiful" is very low budget. It was not expensive and the film was sold in France, and so after, it’s easier for the next project.

Do actresses come to you, begging for you to write for them?

Julianne Moore. Julianne Moore came to France and said that she wanted to work with me. So I was very proud I had to meet her one day. It’s quite difficult, the feeling that it’s the end. In France there is a real pleasure to make movies about women—and very often it’s films that could be successful. I think my first experience was "Under the Sand" with Charlotte Rampling. It was quite strange because when we financed the film it was a nightmare. Nobody wanted to put money on the film, everyone said that Charlotte Rampling was over. It’s a film about mourning. It interested no one. When the film was released it was a big success.


This article is related to: Interviews, Francois Ozon, François Ozon, Young and Beautiful (Jeune et jolie), Drama, French, Cannes Film Festival