Deux Par Ozon (Ricky, Potiche)

27 05 2017

Ever since his “Young & Beautiful” beguiled me at Cannes in 2013, I’ve been a fan of Francois Ozon’s peculiar blend of French cinema. His blend of camp and noir traditions provides for unconventionally satisfying watches in “Swimming Pool” and “In the House” – and, for something totally different, he made a stunningly classical film recently with “Frantz.” That’s not to say I find him perfect, though.

Potiche” (B-) casts icon of French cinema Catherine Deneuve in a role fitting of her status. As Suzanne Pujol, matriarch of a business-owning family, she often keeps her dysfunctional family functioning while receiving little credit. She’s the titular trophy wife (the literal English translation of “potiche”) in a late ’70s era when such was a high honor to which a woman aspired.

But out of necessity, she must step in to manage her husband Robert’s umbrella factory while he falls ill – and during a classic French workers’ strike, no less. Her feminine wiles turn out to be just what the doctor ordered for the factory, so much so that her temporary custodianship begins calcifying into a more permanent management. Her newfound purpose divides her families and galvanizes French society, then still in shock over a woman exerting such authority in the business world so openly and unabashedly.

“Potiche” is a mostly enjoyable romp, although it eventually begins to drag as Ozon hits the same notes on his satirical social commentary again and again. We get the point pretty early on about female empowerment in a patriarchal society, and it’s not exactly a novel idea. Still, the fun of Deneuve letting loose in classic Ozon style makes the film worth a watch.

Now, I have seen Ozon make a movie about a teenage girl who chooses to be a prostitute, a widower who changes gender identity, and two tales about an obfuscated boundary between fiction and reality. These have been exciting takes indeed, though neither promise the sheer spectacle of “Ricky” (D / ). The film quite literally features a baby that sprouts wings (that resemble the kinds you’d see on a Butterball turkey at the supermarket).

It’s told with no urgency, no energy and no vitality – an especially shocking thing to say regarding Ozon, whose films are usually zany expressions of his twisted desires. Every moment rings false and every scene feels phoned in. To call it melodrama implies that there might be a moment resembling dramatic tension. There isn’t.

In fact, the cherubic titular character isn’t even the focus, he’s just the means for the mother to realize herself – but Ozon doesn’t develop her enough for us to give a damn. It’s just a bizarre spectacle and a head-scratcher of the worst variety.





F.I.L.M. of the Week (March 5, 2015)

5 03 2015

In the HouseFrançois Ozon made a big splash in 2003 with his film “Swimming Pool,” which follows the exploits of a novelist pulling generously from real life to write her next book.  A decade later, he circles back to the same themes with his adaptation of “In the House.”  It hardly feels like a rerun, however.

Ozon, here, concerns himself with the ethical position of the observer watching actuality being warped into literary fantasy.  This thrilling, dramatic work earns my nod for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week” because of the way it raises fascinating questions about the challenges and conundrums faced by all who write fictional tales.  While Ozon stops short of making the voyeuristic audience feel that moral weight, “In the House” nonetheless excites and enchants with its intellectual interrogations.

The film plays out as a serialized drama refracted through the experience of a teenage boy, the inquisitive student Claude (Ernest Umhauer).  His incisive description of the inner workings and desires of the real, banal middle-class home belonging to his socially awkward classmate Rapha Artole proves tantalizing to Claude’s teacher, washed-up writer Germain Germain (Fabrice Luchini).  Germain wants to develop and hone his pupil’s writing skills, so he begins to tutor him privately in order to discuss his compositions.

But Germain also pushes him to take surprising actions in his dealings with the Artoles to make Claude’s writing more daring in tone and content.  Thus, the always teetering fulcrum between art reflecting life and life reflecting art begins to fluctuate so rapidly that any distinction between the directionality become inpossible to discern.  Germain essentially turns Claude into a narrative Rumpelstiltskin, exploiting the beauty of the mundane for textual gold and personal gain.

“In the House” excellently illuminates the problems of narrativizing life as it plays out as well as how the writing of life ex post facto clouds and ruins the living of it.  Ozon’s smart plotting and direction makes these quandaries not only intriguing to mull over but also truly riveting to watch in action.