François Ozon is one of the most interesting writer/directors working currently in movies. He makes socially astute, emotionally complex features, and infuses them with wit and style. He writes great roles for women – Charlotte Rampling, Swimming Pool (2003); Romola Garai, Angel (2007); Catherine Deneuve, Potiche (2010) – and isn’t afraid to tackle themes surrounding sexuality and sexual identity. Early in his career Ozon made a number of short movies, and unusually, they’re all intriguing for one reason or another. The two movies reviewed here show a marked difference in style and tone, but taken as examples of a writer/director who’s discovering just what he can do, they make for beguiling viewing.
A Summer Dress (1996)
Original title: Une robe d’été
D: François Ozon / 15m
Cast: Frédéric Mangenot, Lucia Sanchez, Sébastien Charles
Luc (Mangenot) and Lucien (Charles) are young, gay and on holiday together. Lucien is the more extroverted of the two and likes dancing along to Sheila’s version of Bang Bang. Luc, on the other hand, wants to enjoy the peace and quiet and concentrate on getting a tan. When Lucien refuses to stop enjoying himself, Luc heads off to the beach where he strips off and goes for a swim before settling back down to sunbathe. There he meets a young girl, Lucia (Sanchez), who asks him if he wants to go into the nearby woods and make love. Luc agrees and they find a spot in the woods and have sex. When they return to the beach, Luc’s clothes are gone. Lucia lends him her dress so that he can get home without having to travel naked. When he gets back to Lucien, the sight of Luc in a dress arouses him and they have sex as well. The next day, Luc returns the dress to Lucia.
If that all sounds too slight, even for a fifteen minute movie, then in some ways you’d be right, but then it’s also the point. A Summer Dress is interested in capturing a small series of moments in a twenty-four hour period, but moments that aren’t necessarily profound or destined to have a prolonged effect on its main characters. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a summer fling, a fleeting holiday romance that happens on its own terms and comes without any emotional baggage. As such, the movie is a treat to watch, its young protagonists experiencing life on their own terms and without the judgement of others (a lifestyle we might all like to have). There’s an openness and honesty in their approach to sex that is both carefree and naïve, but so redolent of youth that it’s refreshing to be reminded of it (if you’re well clear of your teens). A Summer Dress is an ode to the time in our lives when there are endless possibilities and life is bright and beautiful and full of promise.
Rating: 8/10 – a simple yet elegantly filmed tale of sexual liberation, A Summer Dress is Ozon at his most playful; with winning performances and the lightest of touches, this is a movie that provides a perfect capsule of time and place and incident.
D: François Ozon / 8m
Cast: Denise Schropfer-Aron, Bruno Slagmulder, Lucia Sanchez, Flavien Coupeau, Lionel Le Guevellou, Olivier Le Guevellou
Waking up in his apartment the morning after the New Year’s Eve celebrations for the year 2000, a man (Slagmulder) goes into his kitchen and makes himself a glass of water with two Alka Seltzers in it. Then he’s puzzled to find twins in a sleeping bag in his lounge. When he looks out of the window he sees a couple making love in the apartment opposite. Meanwhile, his wife (Schropfer-Aron) also wakes up and decides to take a bath. The man falls from his perch at the window and breaks the glass with the Alka Seltzer in it. When he puts the broken glass in the bin he finds ants crawling over and around something underneath the bin. He then goes into the bathroom where he tells his wife that the ants are attacking.
Where A Summer Dress sees Ozon taking a somewhat lighthearted approach to the material, X2000 sees him in a more formal, meditative mood, using heavily stylised, static shots to represent notions of time and space and distance and perception. The man is continually surprised and/or bemused by what he sees, either within the flat or without. It’s as if he’s learning about everything from scratch, his reactions more childlike than that of an experienced adult (when he sees the couple making love he climbs up onto a unit in order to get a better view). His wife, meanwhile, keeps her head under the water, retreating from the world, prolonging the silence in the flat, even when her husband breaks all the glass. It’s a very clinical piece, dialogue-free until the very end, and shows Ozon working with limited resources to great effect. The elliptical nature of the storyline – such as it is – is clearly meant to be left to the viewer to interpret, but that doesn’t stop X2000 from being compelling in its own way.
Rating: 8/10 – with so much going on under the surface, X2000 is open to so many interpretations it’s almost confounding, but this makes it all the more rewarding; the brief running time merely reinforces the quality of Ozon’s perspective on the material and the cleverness of its construction.