Francois Ozon: Film as art, art as film.

“I think cinema has to deal with desire. In the cinema, you are with a big screen, it is dark, and you watch some images, like a fantasy, so I think it is important for you to feel desire for what you see.”

So, I did write in my post Top ten films blog-a-thon, that the one film I wanted most to change was the ending to Regarde Le Mere by  Francois Ozon. I was scathing – and indeed (sigh) it must be said I was very very cross with him. I felt to turn that incredibly exciting film into a dull “lesbian-as-serial-killer” flick was a sad waste of time.

However, the film prior to his choice to do that to us all, was very beautiful. Filled with those lovely 1960’s Nouvelle Vague still shots and the rich colour imagery, I found it impossible to forget the earlier part of the short film. Also, one of the reasons I became so disappointed with the end, is the treatment of sexuality in the film. Dark taboo topics were explored using confronting imagery, that for me, defined new territory. To rescue us from such danger with banality was something I’m not quite yet able to accept. But the film (which launched Ozon’s career as a Director to watch) haunted me still.

So. I took a deep breath, and snuck myself into some other short films of his.

Can I say here, that I was not disappointed. In the series I saw, four Ozon films were present, one of which is called Bed Scenes and this was a series of seven small vignettes depicting various moments around alternate styles of sexuality. The Films were all beautiful in their own way, some exploring depths; others using film as a kind of canvas reflecting back to us a certain kind of image.

In X2000 we have a short film about the dawn of a new millenium. The scene is a man waking in his bed to a bright new day. His apartment we see in the opening stills, is littered with paraphernalia from the previous nights party – including an identical pair of gay lovers asleep in the same sleeping bag on his floor, and an army of ants in ecstasy devouring the contents of spilt garbage.  The stills are bright. Ozon uses colour to portray a freshness, despite the left over debris from the ‘previous year’. The man walks about his apartment, noticing objects, things, as if he were seeing them for the first time. Perhaps he has. He has woken to a brand new year after all. Ozon uses techniques like the full nudity of the man and his much older female lover in a disarming way. The people are comfortably vulnerable, and yet everything is beautiful, crisp and part of a new dawn. Because the man seems to have lost his memory of the night before, or it is not addressed, we are given the perspective that the new will overtake us regardless of our preconceived history of what went before. He looks at objects without his memory of them. This champagne bottle is not significant because Tom brought it over last night. It is significant because it is an object in his world, and he shares a space with it. In one lovely moment, the man watches a couple having sex in an apartment accross the way. As he is facinated by their nudity, we get a sense of being the man, as we are watching his nudity through the safety of the lense.

Little Death reminded me of Regarde La Mere and was the least inspiring of the films I saw last night. It is about a gay man who has trouble relating to the world because of a crucial moment at his birth when his father, who was away at the time, saw a photograph of him and declared him ugly. As an adult, he photographs beautiful males in the throes of ecstasy. In fact, precisely at the point of orgasm. he is alienated from those he wants to connect with and estranged from his bourgeois family because of his “brooding arty-ness”. Like Regarde La Mere, you have a sense all through the film of a pedestrian ending, and you hope this film isn’t going to go there. It does – and our protagonist ultimately finds out his alienation was a waste of time. This is a nice idea, but I found his treatment of the subject matter a little clunky as I felt manipulated into ‘knowing what was coming’ so to speak. (grin)

Things start to get interesting with Truth Action. This is a simple group of young teens playing truth or dare.  They ask each other more and more questions about their sexuality, daring each other to perform more and more cheeky sexualised acts. The moment ends with a crucial confrontation with the real depths behind emerging sexuality. This small film was done very well. The footage is grainy and the images slightly out of focus. It gives us the impression of youths emerging from their cocoons and fighting their way out into the world. It is also a stark reminder that the glossy teen years, and indeed all the youthful years, are filled with the pain of self-awareness and self-denial and blindness. I liked this short very much.

Bed Scenes is a series of delicious little moments between people involved in sexual situations. this was my favourite of all the cinema moments I experienced last night. All the films were excellent, and all contained fun or confronting imagery to do with various sexual moments. A man visits a prostitute to discover she uses the socket after her glass eye is removed to perform “oral” sex. A gorgeous couple facing each others feet,  count back from one hundred till, giggling hysterically, they reach sixty-nine, at which point they roll over and act that glorious number out. A woman depressed about her confusion over her potential lover, is brought to a deeper understanding of her own sexuality when we stalks to a friend who offers her a sexual alternative.  Two young men are in bed, one a virgin to men and the other a virgin to women. they are excited and nervous as they approach the important moment of profound intimacy.

Standouts for me in this series were: Mister Clean, The Lady and Love in the Dark. Mister Clean is the superb story of a man who loves the real smell of the human body. Prior to intercourse, he confesses his love of the natural odors to his first time lover and in the course of his expression, completely talks her out of having sex with him. I loved this film, because I had strong empathy with both characters. The man equates cleanliness with capitalism and sees it as a force of oppression. The woman is just afraid she’s going to catch something. It’s a funny, clever short film that left me giggling and happy.  The Lady is another beautiful moment where a woman and a man are in bed together. The catch here is that she is fifty-two years old and he is nineteen and they are preparing to have sex. We find that he has been pursuing her for some time as she is the only woman who excites him, and she has finally given in to his enthusiasm, only to find she is not quite ready to have sex yet.  She is nervous about her lack of recent expereince, confessing this to a young man who has almost no expereince at all. Both of them are trepedatious, and yet clearly very attracted to each other. He begs to kiss her hand, which she allows.

Finally, Love in the dark was my favourite film of all. Another scenario where a man is in bed for the first time with a woman, only he wants to turn the lights off. She takes this as a sign that he is odd, but he reminders her that the light is harsh and confronting and that men are deep and complicated creatures.  She decides there is something wrong with every man she picks up. It is late and she needs to stay, because she has missed the last train home. Once they are in the dark, he is attracted to her and requests permission to masturbate. More confused than ever, she agrees, and post orgasm he tells her he finds her very sexy. I thought this film was a small masterpiece. Eric Rhomer makes beautiful films about the relationships between men and women but his representations are from a time now past. This film depicts the modern complexities between men and women. She is the sexual aggressor, he the passive recipient trying to express how he feels. I laughed so many times in this lovely five-minute film, I wish it could have been longer.

Sex is always treated with the respect it deserves in Ozon films. This is not a director who takes sex lightly, nor does he indulge in hedonistic sexual fantasies. He understands the complexity and the diversity of sexual connection. He understands people are expressing themselves through their relationships and seeing their lovers through what they project. This is an intelligent film maker, who treats his audience with great respect.

The good news is, I have orderd some of his feature length films and will be able to review them here very soon. See if you can hunt down this collection of shorts in the interim.


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