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In the decade since he made a splash at Cannes with Swimming Pool, Francois Ozon has been putting out about a film a year, projects as varied as last year’s Cesar-nominated thriller In the House and 2010’s campy comedy Potiche. This year he returns to the festival with Young & Beautiful, a sensual, provocative exploration of a disaffected Parisian teen who turns to prostitution. Ozon, 45, spoke to THR about exploring adolescent sexuality and leaving the audience wondering.
The Hollywood Reporter: This film is billed as a coming-of-age story, but it is much less innocent than that. What motivated you to tell this story?
Francois Ozon: When I began my career, [my films were] always about teenagers. So I wanted to return to that and do a film about adolescence and maybe show another vision of what is often an idealized period. French cinema often idealizes adolescence and there is a kind of nostalgia about it. And actually I don’t have nostalgia at all for that period, for me it was a difficult period in life, so the idea comes from that.
THR:There is a difference between telling a story of the difficulties of adolescence and this story, which is quite extreme.
Ozon: Cinema is there to be extreme and you have to push things, because reality is interesting when it’s different. I know everybody is quite shocked about the idea of prostitution, but it could have been something else. It could have been anorexia, drugs, suicide. I just wanted to show that when you are this age there are struggles within you. You have violence inside you need to express and you don’t know how. For this girl, it is the idea of sex, and to do prostitution. I wanted to show she’s quite innocent, because she doesn’t realize the danger of this situation. She thinks she is immortal, like everybody when you are 17 years old. You are afraid of nothing and you need transgression to escape your family. I don’t choose to comfort the audience. The idea was to keep a kind of mystery and it is up to you to do the job. We want to know, but in reality we don’t. There are families, normal families, where you have the feeling that everything is perfect, but later you learn that the son committed suicide, and you say, “Why? They looked normal.” I wanted to put the audience in this situation where you don’t understand. I consider the audience clever. I know for American audiences maybe it is a problem, because they want to have all the explanations at the end. But I think for me, what is interesting in cinema is to ask questions. I’m not a politician. I’m not here to give answers.
THR: Men and women seem to have different reactions to the film.
Ozon: I think women understand the film more than men. I think men are afraid because it’s like, “Oh my God. There is all that in the head of a woman?” She is very powerful. But I think women can really be connected with this girl because it’s a fantasy of many women to do prostitution. That doesn’t mean they do it, but the fact to be paid to have sex is something which is very obvious in feminine sexuality.
THR: Why do you believe that is a desire? I really don’t think that’s the case.
Ozon: I think that’s the case because sexuality is complex. I think to be an object in sexuality is something very obvious you know, to be desired, to be used. There is kind of a passivity that women are looking for. That’s why the scene with Charlotte Rampling is very important, because she says [prostitution] was a fantasy she always had but never had the courage to do it. She was too shy.
THR: How did you come to the conclusion that is a theme in women’s sexuality?
Ozon: It is the reality. You speak with many women, you speak with shrinks, everybody knows that. Well, maybe not Americans!
THR: You are a very prolific director, making almost a film per year. How do you keep up that pace creatively and physically?
Ozon: I have many friends who are directors who say they suffer a lot. I don’t suffer. I suffer more when I am here doing the promotion! If I had the freedom to do two films a year I would. If I could work in the Hollywood of the 1940s and 1950s, when the director was behind the scenes and not considered a star and was not supposed to do the promotion — directors were able to do a musical and then a Western in the same year. I would have loved to have worked then. I don’t have a marketing plan about my films or an industrial vision about my career. I’m not in the American logic of doing things, which is more industrial than artistic.
THR: You were on the jury at the Berlin Film Festival last year. Has that changed the way you feel about having your film judged by others?
Ozon: I loved being on the jury. It was a great experience. It was very funny because the conversations were quite hard sometimes, and I realized how it can be a problem to be democratic because we have to vote, and sometimes it is not the best film that has the votes. So it’s a real fight. I realized it can be a little bit by chance, random. I remember there was a film I thought was a masterpiece, but I was the only one! So what can you do when you are voting and you are one and there are seven people who say, “No, sorry, we don’t like this movie”? So, it’s a game. I realized it’s a game.
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