The New Girlfriend – Out Friday – Francois Ozon Retrospective
Francois Ozon, the French master of portraying human sexuality has struck again with The New Girlfriend. In typical Ozon style, the film deals with questions of gender identity, friendship and grief.
Ozon’s career has spanned almost thirty years, and with a film every year since 2002 he has cemented his place in French cinema. He started his career making shorts, creating 15 minute masterpieces like Truth or Dare (1994) and A Summer Dress (1996), establishing his technique and character development by addressing questions surrounding sexuality and innocence.
Reaching critical acclaim with his similar thematic style and originality of gay themes in French cinematic tradition, Ozon is one director who will have you sitting back and laughing one minute and then on the edge of your seat the next – drawing parallels to the screwball comedies of the 30s, intense thrillers of Hitchcock in the 50s and Woody Allen of the 2000s.
To celebrate the release of The New Girlfriend on May 22, we countdown down the five top feature films in Ozon’s filmography.
8 Women (2002)
8 Women. Murder. Mystery. Musical Comedy? This is the premise on which Ozon’s 8 Women is set and it works amazingly well. With the NY Times calling 8 Women a ‘homage to the melodramatic tradition’ the film is full of pure, innocent fun based on the dramatic backdrop of a murder in an isolated house. But beware – this is not The Shining kind of isolated house murder.
The film begins in 1950s France, where a family is gathered for the holiday season. The only man of the family, and indeed story, is murdered, and we realise that the murderer must be one of the 8 women closest to him. With dark family secrets and mutual suspicions comes comedic situations, and the tangled murder mystery transforms into a musical with each character singing her story. The story is nonsensical and not dissimilar to Pedro Almodovar’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, so if you like women upstaging everyone and everything in movies – this is for you! The film was nominated for 12 César awards and remains one of Ozon’s finest works. For anyone delving into the extensive filmography of Francois Ozon, start here for a guilty pleasure!
Swimming Pool (2003)
This film is one which British audiences will be more familiar. Featuring two marvels of British theatre and film – Charles Dance and Charlotte Rampling – Ozon uses their talents to create a psychological thriller that left audiences unhappy with the ending. But before the ending, the main plot … set in a house in Southern France it follows Samantha Morton (Rampling) as a crime writer, who wants to write a novel unlike anything she has done before.
The owner’s daughter comes to stay and when she does, the line between fantasy and reality becomes blurred, with the film taking on a provocative nature. To say more would ruin the essence of the film and put simply, Ozon’s focus on a small ensemble cast again proves this film to be on par with Hitchcock for thrills. Doing what he does best, this film proved a hit with the critics and audiences alike, making them think well until the credits rolled at the end of Swimming Pool.
In Hideaway, Francois Ozon has gone back to his roots with a small, intimate French family drama. Following the life of pregnant Mousse, Ozon captures the feeling of drug fuelled nights and the experience of death when her boyfriend dies of a heroin overdose. Although the film sounds mighty depressing it is one of the most understated films of Ozon’s career, with a stellar ensemble cast and questions of sexuality and family ties coming to the forefront. Once again, the ending was incomplete - proving that he is the master of making audiences think long after the film has finished. The film won a Special Prize of the Jury at the 2009 San Sebastian Film Festival, screaming that Ozon’s films are ones to look out for.
In the House (2012)
In the House is a psychological thriller based on a play showing off an intimate cast featuring British darling Kristin Scott Thomas. Sensing a bit of déjà vu here? Well, you should be, Ozon knows what works and what doesn’t – questions of sexual desires, obsession and family ties. Instead of paying homage to Hitchcock with tense thriller vibes, Ozon oozes Woody Allen! The film follows a student and teacher whose relationship soon turns into a comedic thriller. Both the teacher and his wife are hooked by the student whose essay ‘How I Spent Last Weekend’ proves to be a work of genius. Following the lives of both families – teacher and student – the audience has to work out what each agenda is for each character, as life and literature becomes blurred once again in arguably Ozon’s best film in years. This film was extremely popular both sides of the Atlantic and across mainland Europe, with In the House winning the main prize at San Sebastian International Film Festival 2012.
Young and Beautiful (2013)
For Young and Beautiful, Ozon draws away from the eerie psychological thriller and focuses instead on one family. The daughter Isabelle (played by French model and actress Marine Vacth) and her reaction to sex is the plot in a nutshell. Charting her life from the summer when she lost her virginity to prostitution and her various clients in hotel rooms, the audience does nothing but observe as she explores her desires. What makes this film so good is that it relies on the bare minimum of details - no backstory or plot twist is needed. So that is what you will be left with – the bare minimum of details on Young and Beautiful.
Just like previous years, a San Sebastian International Film Festival award was won, the TVE Another Look (awarded for films that show sensitivity to the female world) and is reason enough to keep coming back and re-watching this film. Ozon’s decision to focus on sexuality and family relationships foreshadows what is to come in The New Girlfriend, and if it is mastered to perfection like Young and Beautiful audiences are in for a treat!
THE NEW GIRLFRIEND HITS UK CINEMAS ON MAY 22