Francois Ozon: from Frantz to Fifty Shades

PUBLISHED: 17:31 11 July 2017 | UPDATED: 17:31 11 July 2017

Director Francois Ozon

Director Francois Ozon

2016 Getty Images

Our culture correspondent on the filmmaker Francois Ozon, whose latest works veer from comparatively chaste to France’s answer to Fifty Shades of Grey.

The French film-maker Francois Ozon was already having a stellar year. Frantz, his film about Franco-German relations in the aftermath of the First World War, has had rave reviews around the world. The film received eleven Cesar nominations and won for Best Cinematography. It has been hailed as a new direction for contemporary cinema, seamlessly mixing nostalgia with political commentary as easily as it switches between black and white and colour.

Now Ozon’s new erotic thriller L’Amant Double has been dubbed France’s answer to Cinquante Nuances de Grey (Fifty Shades of Grey) and was recently widely tipped to win the Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, largely because everyone thought that Pedro Almodovar, the president of this year’s Cannes jury, would fall in love with it. (In the end it lost to Swedish director Ruben Ostlund’s The Square.)

At the age of 49, Ozon looks like one of his own leading men and has been described as having the appearance of “a maturing matinee idol”. He’s a committed grafter, turning out close to a film a year for the past 20 years. His biggest hit outside France is 8 Femmes, a quirky musical murder mystery which was an hommage to 1950s Hollywood. (And shared a lot of the aesthetics of La La Land.) Starring Isabelle Huppert, Catherine Deneuve, Emmanuelle Beart, Fanny Ardant and Virginie Ledoyen, it took over $42 million at the box office and was nominated for 12 Cesars. Sadly, and slightly weirdly, it was ignored by the Oscars.

Born in Paris and a student at the legendary La Femis, France’s Ecole Nationale Superieure of film, Ozon is known as one of the “New Wave” directors and is one of the filmmakers known for celebrating “un cinema du corps” – a cinema of the body which focuses on a sort of visceral physicality. (Scorsese is also known for this approach in France: think unflinching gaze, psychological self-examination and intensity.)

Ozon has a number of favourite actors who love to work with him: Catherine Deneuve (8 Femmes, Potiche); Charlotte Rampling (Swimming Pool, Sous Le Sable, Angel, Jeune & Jolie); Fabrice Luchini (Potiche, Dans La Maison). He considers the English actress Romola Garai his muse after they worked on his first and only English language film Angel, a performance which saw Garai named as one of the actresses of the year in the Independent. The film is based on the novel of the same name by the novelist Elizabeth Taylor, about the life of a fiery and passionate young writer. It didn’t quite achieve the international audience Ozon had hoped for.

Frantz, however, has. Made in French and German (and with native speakers from each language), it has been another break-out film for Ozon. It is based on Ernst Lubitsch’s 1932 film Broken Lullaby, which was itself based on the 1930 play L’Homme Que J’ai Tue by Maurice Rostand and the 1931 English adaptation The Man I Killed, by Reginald Berkeley. (The title of the original play offers something of a spoiler which Ozon plays with in Frantz. We know there’s a link between a French soldier and a German soldier but we don’t know what that link is. And even when we do find out, Ozon moves the goalposts again.)

Frantz is about a mysterious Frenchman who visits the town of Quedlinburg in Germany, where 19-year-old Anna (played by Paula Beer) is mourning her fiancé. She is astonished to see Adrien (Pierre Niney) also visiting the grave and decides to befriend him. A cautious friendship emerges and in the second part of the film, Anna goes to look for Adrien in Paris.

This could have been a film about war, grief and youth, but Ozon brings it back up-to-date by contrasting the reactions of the two nationalities: neither the French nor the Germans come out well. There are two striking moments in the film where Ozon makes a blunt point about nationalism. First, we hear a group of Germans singing The Watch on the Rhine, a German anthem about victory over the French. Then we see the effect on a young German woman visiting Paris when everyone sitting in a restaurant starts singing La Marseillaise when a war hero walks in. As viewers we are encouraged to take the side of the person who can’t join in the singing. It’s the uncomfortable, bullying side of patriotism where it crosses into the sort of jingoism that isn’t just about national pride but instead requires others to be debased in order for it to survive.

Ozon has talked about what it was like to make the film just after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris. “During this period we heard La Marseillaise a lot, people from everywhere singing it in the street. But people forget the sense of the lyrics, so it was interesting to put it in the real context of the song in the film and to hear the song with the ears of a German girl,” he told the Financial Times earlier this year.

The interplay of black and white and colour in the film mirrors Ozon’s own approach to nuance: sometimes he is very subtle in his approach; at other times garish. He loves to express complicated and difficult ideas and is not worried if he doesn’t succeed 100%. He says: “I did a lot of research on the German side because there are so many films from the French point of view. I wanted to understand the rise of nationalism. Even young Germans do not learn so much about the First World War in their history classes. My German producers were very happy because I was telling a story in which they were not the bad guys.” (Having seen the film, though, I have to say that this is arguable.)

Ozon seems open to lots of different kinds of films (which is something his work is criticised for – there is no central organising principle). But he takes the view that the only important thing is to avoid Hollywood. “I think that if you went to America you would lose your soul because you have to work in the American way, which is so different from the European way of making movies. When you have the freedom to do exactly what you want, why would you move to America to be totally controlled and have to work with people maybe you don’t respect and who are difficult to work with? I would not have final cut in Hollywood. In France, a director must have final cut. It’s the law.”

Having called Frantz his “most chaste” movie, the next one is the opposite. L’Amant Double is adapted from Joyce Carol Oates’ short story The Lives of Twins. The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw has already called it “like a super-porny version of Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected” or “a 105-minute ad for perfume: Pervitude by Chanel.” It sounds perfect.

Support The New European's vital role as a voice for the 48%

The New European is proud of its journalism and we hope you are proud of it too. We believe our voice is important - both in representing the pro-EU perspective and also to help rebalance the right wing extremes of much of the UK national press. If you value what we are doing, you can help us by making a contribution to the cost of our journalism.

  • Become a friend of The New European for a contribution of £48. You will qualify for a mention in our newspaper (should you wish)
  • Become a partner of The New European for a contribution of £240. You will qualify for a mention in our newspaper (should you wish) and receive a New European Branded Pen and Notebook
  • Become a patron of The New European for a contribution of £480. You will qualify for a mention in our newspaper (should you wish) and receive a New European Branded Pen and Notebook and an A3 print of The New European front cover of your choice, signed by Editor Matt Kelly

By proceeding, you agree to the New Europeans supporters club Terms & Conditions which can be found here.



Supporter Options

Mention Me in The New European



If Yes, Name to appear in The New European



Latest articles

Trump makes Nixon look like the good guy

The US is stumbling towards an autocracy, as it emerges Donald Trump is exploring ways to pardon himself even before any accusations have been made.

What would Doctor Who do?

I find I’m just as uncomfortable with sneering schadenfreude when it’s our “side” doing it as when it comes from the opposition.

Why every philosopher’s death seems to hold meaning

The tragic drowning of French philosopher Anne Dufourmantelle while trying to rescue two stricken children has prompted tributes from across the globe.

Robert Miller update: “I don’t hate the EU… I just don’t want us to be in it”

The New European has finally decided to publish one of persistent Brexiteer Robert Miller’s letters. But was it worth the wait?

Football clubs were ethnically cleansed along with the population during the Bosnian War

The story of the Bosnian War is also the story of its football clubs which were ethnically cleansed along with the population

Fox says ‘I’ll take care of the chicken’ amid chlorine-washed meat fears

Trade secretary Liam Fox has played down claims importing foods under a new UK-US trade deal could mean a loosening of food standards post-Brexit.

Rattenkrieg 2017: How the destruction of Mosul was templated in Stalingrad

The haunting image of a ruined city is nothing new. Here we examine the horrors of urban warfare from Stalingrad to Mosul

Sexuality reality: How the first gay rights movement was destroyed

A burgeoning gay rights movement in Europe in the early decades of the 20th century was crushed by rising authoritarianism.

RIP common decency... welcome to the age of hate in belligerent Britain

We used to be a mild-mannered people. Now random spite is the cornerstone of our crumbling culture

British media fail: Why we need a new cultural education

The British media has always failed in its coverage of European affairs.

Cracks show for Labour as party fails to grasp anti-Brexit feeling of members

Labour’s Brexit divisions have become apparent once again with trade spokesman Barry Gardiner saying staying in the customs union would be a “disaster”.

Brexit will be the great environmental disaster

When it comes to Brexit and the environment our ties to the EU are complex.

What the UK means to me: “Britishness oftentimes hits me in the face”

The zealots who allow the Brexit fiasco to happen are diminishing the UK inch by inch, day by day.

Macron: the rule breaker who smashed up the system

Emmanuel Macron has been lucky. But also courageous. Here’s how the combination has led to a remarkable turnaround in previously gloomy nation

How the Dutch are falling out of love with Britain

We Dutch used to make fun of the Germans and admire the Brits, says Vanessa Lamsvelt. Now, we find ourselves laughing at, not with, the UK

Blow for Hard Brexit as Cabinet ‘unites’ behind transition deal

The Cabinet is “united” in backing a transitional Brexit deal which would mean continued access to migrant labour, Michael Gove has said.

What Euratom really stands for

The Euratom row lays bare the innate flaws of Brexit. But it also gives pro-Europeans their biggest chance yet to regain the initiative

How did Brexit Britain lose the spirit of the 2012 Olympics?

How did Brexit Britain lose the spirit of the 2012 Olympics?

Brexit could force UK to set up new healthcare scheme for tourists

Brussels is holding out on the government’s hopes of continuing membership of the European health insurance scheme post-Brexit.

Fox says UK does not need trade deal with Europe after Brexit

Brexiteer cabinet minister Liam Fox has reiterated the government’s widely ridiculed negotiating tactic of “no deal is better than a bad deal”.

Watch us on YouTube

The rollercoaster ride of Theresa May's plummeting approval ratings

Views: 325

A year of failure and fiasco in May’s Number 10

Views: 251

Tory minister Steve Baker demands the EU is to be ‘torn down’

Views: 451

Podcast

Trending

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter