Entertainment » Movies

François Ozon Talks Twins, Strong Women, and 'Double Lover'

by Kilian Melloy
Wednesday Feb 14, 2018
François Ozon poses with actress Marine Vacth, star of his new thriller 'Double Lover'
François Ozon poses with actress Marine Vacth, star of his new thriller 'Double Lover'  

French filmmaker François Ozon has made nearly 20 full-length feature films, as well as numerous shorts. He is a French filmmaker François Ozon has made nearly 20 full-length feature films, as well as numerous shorts. He is a genre polymath, having helmed suspense movies, comedies, dramas, and films that have successfully blended multiple genres into specific cinematic experiences. He's also a filmmaker who understands the power of the female perspective. While other directors might cling to a "male gaze" that treats women as objects - of admiration, of beauty and grace, of strength, but objects all the same - Ozon explores nooks and nuances of the feminine psyche.

The results may feel somewhat mythic, but they also have a rooted-in-reality aesthetic. The fact that Ozone has worked with certain actresses on multiple projects - Charlotte Rampling in particular, star of international hits "Under the Sand" (2000) and "Swimming Pool" (2003), among other Ozon films - is a testament to the quality of his concentration. He's also worked with Catherine Deneuve (in the comedies "8 Women" [2002] and "Potiche" [2010]) and Isabelle Huppert (in "8 Women"). That's not to say he hasn't worked with considerable male talent, also - including Romaine Duris (in "The New Girlfriend" [2014]), Gérard Depardieu (in "Potiche"), and Sam Neill and Michael Fassbender (in "Angel" [2007]).

For the fan of international cinema, Ozon's films have become events - thankfully, relatively frequent ones, with new movies every year or two. His prolific rate of filmmaking doesn't compromise quality; in the last five years Ozon has made five films, from the erotically tinged semi-comic thriller "In the House" (2012) to "The New Girlfriend," a psychologically suspenseful and yet still-sympathetic portrait of a cross dresser, to last year's artful and mysterious historical drama "Frantz," set just after World War II, in which a former French soldier makes contact with a grieving German family, claiming to be a once-close friend of their dead son, killed in battle. "Frantz" features a shifting palette, which transforms from black and white to varying intensities of color as new friendships dispel a misery of grief and guilt.

Just as visually remarkable is his newest work, "Double Lover," an adaptation of a Joyce Carol Oates novel in which Ozon reunites with two actors he's worked with before. Maine Vacth, who starred in "Young & Beautiful" (2013), carries the film in the role of Chloé, a troubled young woman whose emotional distress manifests as physical pain. Jérémie Renier, who appeared in "Potiche," co-stars here in dual roles as both Paul, Chloé's therapist turned boyfriend, and Louis, another therapist who also happens to be Paul's identical twin brother. Chloé becomes emotionally, psychologically, and sexually entangled with both, but as she looks more carefully into mysterious elements of Paul's past she begins to wonder about the fate of a former girlfriend - now a catatonic shell of herself - who had, like Chloé, become involved with the brothers.

The film's intense, hallucinatory style and striking visuals commence from the first frames when a pair of images hook the viewer. We see Chloé getting a haircut, with wet strands of hair hanging over her face like prison bars; then we see her in a gynecologist's exam room, in a scene where an unflinching close-up of female genitalia dissolves into Chloé's open eye. Ozon has never been shy about exploring sexuality of all sorts - male, female, gay, straight - but even for him, this feels groundbreaking.

"I think after 'Frantz,' [which] was a very classical movie, I wanted to go in another direction," Ozon told EDGE. "I wanted to be more extreme. I had the feeling that the material of Joyce Carole Oates would be a perfect opportunity to try something new visually and in mise-en-scène, to experiment with some new things. I realized, too, that in 'Frantz' I had no sex scenes, except a small piece at the end of the film, and I wanted to go back to sexuality because there are a lot of challenges about the filming of sex, especially today. I wanted to have occasion to show new things."

He certainly has. "Double Lover" dips into body horror, soars into vicious black comedy, grazes "Fifty Shades" territory, and turns the screws of anxiety and fear so tightly you might feel you need to book a few session with a shrink yourself once the closing credits roll.

EDGE had the pleasure of a recent telephone chat with François Ozon.


Jérémie Renier and Marine Vacth star in François Ozon's thriller 'Double Lover'  (Source:Cohen Media Group)

EDGE: "Franz" seemed like a thriller in some ways, and that film used innovative transitions from black and white to color. In the case of "Double Lover," you use some different special effects and some very striking transitions. Are you taking advantage of new technology to open up cinematic vocabulary?

François Ozon: I need a film to find the right form to tell the story I want to tell. So I wanted to use, yes, new technology and new effects. I try to find the right form, the right mise-en-scène, to invoke the best I can the audience to my story.

EDGE: Speaking of remarkable transitions, there's an early image in which we see female genitalia - unadorned, there's no attempt to hide or disguise what we are seeing - and that dissolves to Chloé's open, watchful eye. Can you comment on this provocative imagery?

François Ozon: I didn't realize it would be such a provocation [laughing] and people would be so shocked. I had the feeling you can have everything on the internet; I didn't realize it was a kind of taboo to show that in a movie. But for me, it was not a provocation. It was just a way to say visually, in two shots, what would be the story about - the internality of the character, a woman searching for a secret. She has something inside, she doesn't know what it is. The eye and the vagina together was a way to say that's the story of this movie. When you start the film you don't know exactly what you are watching, of course, and maybe it's a provocation but it's a way to challenge the audience and provoke them to pay attention to what [they] are going to watch.

EDGE: Your films often focus on remarkable female characters. How did you conceive of Chloé - as a strong young woman pushing back as best she can? As a victim?

François Ozon: I think she's a victim of herself. She's a victim of nature. When you understand at the end what she has inside, you realize she's suffering from something she has inside. I think it's another form of people making psychoanalysis: You have something inside, you have a secret, and you try to know what it is. I think in the case of Chloé, the concrete problem that she has [becomes] clear.

EDGE: What draws you to such interesting and complex female characters?

François Ozon: As a feminist, I like to show strong women, powerful women - complex women, too. I think it's important to show because very often in movies the women are supporting parts and in my movies I like to show the sides of the women that it's not usual to show. Things are changing today, but for me it's important to show these complex characters - especially because I'm a man, because I should have more [sensitivity], I'm more honest because it's far away from me. Each woman carries a secret, and I want to find what is that secret.

EDGE: I wonder whether Cronenberg's films were an influence on "Double Lover." There's some Cronenberg-style body horror in the movie, and one line of dialogue about diabolical twin brothers exploiting women seems like a wink to "Dead Ringers."

François Ozon: Actually, I didn't ask Joyce Carol Oates, but I had the feeling when I read the book that she had seen the films of Cronenberg before. I should ask her the question when we meet again.... Of course, I saw the film of Cronenberg - I'm a big fan of Cronenberg, and when you talk about twins, of course, there are references to Cronenberg, because Cronenberg showed twins like a monstrosity of nature, and because of the vision of my film. There are of course links between the two films.

EDGE: There are several passages in "Double Lover" that seem as if they must be dreams or hallucinations, but you treat them seriously - as seriously as if everything in the film is in fact reality. This approach steeps us in Chloe's mind and perceptions. Was it difficult to strike a balance between presenting situations that seem as if they must be dreams and yet also give them so much realism and emotional weight?

François Ozon: For me, it was important to let the audience [be] free to integrate the scenes. In a movie I did before, "Swimming Pool," I mixed reality, fantasy, dreams, and it's up to you to do the job [of figuring out how it all fits together]. You know, very often I have the words of Luis Bunuel in mind - he said you have to shoot the dream scene like reality, and you have to shoot the real scene like a dream. [That is] very important for me. I like to blur a border between reality and fiction. Sometimes it's clear it's a dream - for example, the scene where she has sex with the two twins - but I like when the audience [isn't sure], because it obliges you to work. It creates a connection between you and the film.

EDGE: Jérémie Renier, who plays both Paul and Louis, manages to look distinctly different for the two roles. He seems friendlier, a little weary, and more middle class as Paul, but when we see him as Louis he seems colder, sharper, and more dangerous. Was it all a matter of makeup, costuming, lighting, and acting? Was some sort of subtle CGI touch-up involved?

François Ozon: I think he's a great actor. It's the third time I've worked with him. I think in some ways it's a great opportunity for an actor to play twins because all the actors have double personalities. He was very excited to play Paul and Louis, and a good thing in the process of the shooting was the fact we shot first all the scenes of Paul, and after [that] all the scenes of Louis. So he didn't have to mix. And we took the freedom to make different takes during the shooting... it gave me the freedom in the editing room to choose the right takes and to find the good chemistry between the two characters.

EDGE: You've worked with some actresses time and again - Charlotte Rampling for instance, with whom you have made a number of films.

François Ozon: I have the soul of Pygmalion - I like to work with some actresses, and very often I think that some actresses have many sides. I like to show their different sides on film. Charlotte has become a very good friend, and we have made four or five films together.

EDGE: You've also worked before with Marine Vacth, who has done such a wonderful job as Chloé. Do you suppose Marine will be one of the actresses you might return to in the future?

François Ozon: With Marine, yes, I think she is very powerful. She has - as the Americans say - star quality, and I realize after [we worked together on] "Young & Beautiful" she had changed a lot, she's now a real actress and she's very strong - she has a very strong personality. And she's very secretive and mysterious.

EDGE: Your films are rich with themes of sexuality of all sorts, and they feel genuine in terms of wanting to understand desire, repression, obsession, and other dramatic subject matter, but without demonizing or belittling those things. What are you looking to reveal or explore about these themes?

François Ozon: I don't know.

[Laughter]

François Ozon: That may be why I shoot some sex scenes. I have the real pleasure to shoot these kinds of scenes because there are many questions about the mise-en-scène when you have to film two actors making love. You have to ask yourself: What do I show? Do I show the nudity? What effect will the scene have on the audience? Will they be excited? Will they be disgusted? There are many questions... very often there are no lies in sex scenes. People don't cheat; it's the truth of bodies, so it's very strong. The truth of the character will appear on the screen. As a director, it's more interesting for me to shoot sex scenes than scenes in a café where two people are talking about the weather - and, I think, for the audience, too.

EDGE: You write your own screenplays; are you like Hitchcock, do you have the entire film worked out visually in your mind by the time you finish the writing of the screenplay and go behind the camera?

François Ozon: No, I prefer not. Of course, I have some visions about some things, because very often when you begin to write screenplays you have the first idea, and this first idea is very often visual. But you have to build the story around this scene, and sometimes during the process of writing and making the film because of the scene, you realize that this isn't the most important scene of the film. You realize, "Maybe I made this film for another reason." It's something you discover during the process of making the movie. As a director I'm not a control freak; I like to let the life arise in the story, and I like to give the actors the freedom to give me some ideas to make the film better. I like when the film surprises me. I'm not a director in the tradition of Stanley Kubrick - I'm more like Fassbinder, very fast, always with the same crew, he made four films a year. I'm more in that kind of tradition.

I've never directed a script that [I didn't write]. I need to go through the process of writing the script - so much will be discovered [in the writing]. I would love to receive a beautiful script that I would say, 'There is nothing to change, I will just shoot the film.' I would love that, but for the moment, it has never happened to me. When I make an adaptation, very often I make a change - I have to put my own world into the story. Writing is a part of the mise-en-scène for me.

EDGE: What are your thoughts on the movies that have generated buzz this year? For example, "BPM," which is another French film?

François Ozon: I really love the film. I think it's very strong. I knew this period; I recognize many things from when I was younger, because I went to some meetings of ACT UP in the '90s in France. I was very touched by the film and very happy because the film is very successful in France. It's very interesting, because at the time when ACT UP was doing a lot of actions, everybody was against them. They were considered terrorists. It's quite funny to see now, with this film, that people realize they were [doing things] the right way, and they worked for us in a very good direction - they were activists that changed the politics about AIDS. But it takes power to recognize that the actions of activists are very important for society.

EDGE: With the Me Too and Time's Up movements and the new crop of female filmmakers we're seeing - in all sorts of roles, from cinematography to writing and directing - and more movies that examine women's perspectives and women's stories, are you feeling, "Yes, it's about time everyone caught up with me? See how talented and strong women are, and how much potential they bring to the movies!"

[Laughter]

François Ozon: I'm very happy with the situation of today. I think the mentality is changing. I think it's in all of society, but it comes from the world of cinema, and I think it's a very good thing. In France we are very lucky because we have a lot of female directors - we have many women with strong sensibilities, and they find the freedom to make movies in France. I am very supportive of their work.




Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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