Calling Mr. Ozon

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Francois Ozon’s new movie Time to Leave opens in Bay Area theaters this Friday, which means that it’s time to talk to him -- about his attractive lead actor, Melvil Poupaud, his legendary supporting actress, Jeanne Moreau, and potentially stupid but fuckable bit players. Oh yeah, there’s some gossipy stuff.

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Bay Guardian: My favorite of Melvil Poupaud’s films might be Eric Rohmer’s A Summer’s Tale, where he has a Jeff Buckley quality. The beach scenes in your movie resonate off of that one, as well as the beach scenes in your past films -- would you agree? Had you admired other films of his?
Francois Ozon: I met Melvil a long time ago for Water Drops on Burning Rocks; I’d asked him to do the lead part, but he was afraid to play a gay character -- he wasn’t about to kiss a boy in front of the camera. But now he was ready, maybe because the fact the character is gay is not so important. He was touched by Romain’s relationship to his father.
He’s a great actor because he accepts his passivity, his femininity. To be directed by a man was not a problem for him -- in fact, at times, working with him is like working with an actress.

FO (cont'd): I also like that fragility he brings to his role in A Summer’s Tale. I think it was very erotic in that film -- the fact that he wasn’t able to choose the girl he wanted amongst all of the film’s girls.

BG: Tell me about the actor who plays the Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi’s husband in Time to Leave. He’s a bit like the horny mustache man in Swimming Pool -- what draws you to using this type in movies?
FO: The man who plays Valeria’s husband is not an actor. He’s Italian, like Valeria. I met him at a dinner. It was at a festival in France where a film by Bergman was presented -- Saraband. All of the great actresses from Bergman’s films were there. Everyone was amazed to have seen the last film of Bergman and to be there with the actresses. Then someone asked this guy if he liked the film and he said, “I slept through it.”
It was very funny, and he had never seen a film by Bergman before.
I’d met with many actors during casting, and then I remembered that guy and I propositioned him to play the part. I think it worked out well, because you don’t know if he’s stupid.

BG: This is your second time working with Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi.
FO: Yes, Valeria starred in [my] 5x2. For Time to Leave I had wanted an unknown actress, but it didn’t work out. I knew Valeria loved this part and she was touched by this woman.

BG: What do you think of her in [Patrice Chereau’s] Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train?
FO: She’s too much in Chereau. It’s the way he directs actors. It’s overblown.

BG: His film His Brother seems similar to Time to Leave in some respects.
FO: I didn’t watch it. I knew it was too close to my film.

BG: You mentioned that the death of friends was one inspiration for this film. I’m also wondering if there are novels, such as To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life, that might have had an influence, or if you read them. Herve Guibert’s voice in that book switches from rage to tenderness in a way that reminds me a bit of Romain.
FO: Herve Guibert was very important in the ‘80s in France because he was the first writer to do autofiction. It’s a great movement now. He was very honest and edgy and queer. He did a film when he had AIDS, a doc about himself, that he filmed with a DV camera. I don’t know if it was released, but it was on TV and it was very powerful, morbid, and honest.

BG: You’ve now worked with so many legendary actresses. Are there any actresses or actors that you have your sights set on?
FO: I don’t dream about actresses or actors before writing a part. I need a story or character, and at that point I dream of a an actor or actress. With 8 Women, after working on the script, the adaptation of the play, we finally thought it would be nice to have great actresses in these roles, so it could be a film about women and about actresses.

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BG: Did you have Jeanne Moreau in mind when you adapted her character in Time to Leave?
FO: I’ve known Jeanne a long time because she wrote me a letter when I was still a student doing short films. I was astounded to get a letter saying she loved one of my films. She encouraged me. But I didn’t have a part for her in 8 Women -- and maybe she didn’t want to play the mother of Catherine Deneuve.
With Time to Leave, Jeanne asked me, “Is it a grandmother role?,” and I said, “I’m sorry, it is.” But I knew the part was very strong. It needed a strong actress that you want to confess to -- and Jeanne has such a big experience of life that you can say very important things to her. When you talk with her, it’s not casual.

BG: Romain takes snapshots in the movie. I wonder if you could talk about photography in relation to death or mortality, or discuss how Romain’s approach to taking photos changes in the film.
FO: I think in the beginning the photography doesn’t mean anything to him -- it’s superficial. He makes pictures for fashion magazines. When he knows that he’ll die, he needs to make pictures differently. He begins to open his eyes. It isn’t the picture that is important but the gesture – suddenly, he can take a picture of very simple and everyday things.

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BG: Some of the audience’s questions after the screening last night buzzed around Romain’s antagonism towards his sister, and you cryptically made reference to your own sister. Do you consider this film closer to your family life than other films, or more autobiographical in any way? Do you think there are variants of your relationship to your family in all your movies?
FO: I’m very different from Romain, but there are parts of the character that are the same. Melvil was always looking at me during filming, and I realized that he was observing because he had the feeling the character was me. I had to say, “That’s not me, it’s just a part.” I know the feelings and emotion of the character, but it’s not autobiographical.

BG: In the past you’ve talked about each film of yours sort of countering or moving in a different direction from the one that came before it -- do you still think you follow that path, or is there more of a continuum between 5x2 and Time to Leave?
FO: I don’t know. I don’t analyze my work -- it’s your job, not mine! I just follow my instincts. I need to have a new challenge, but there are obsessions.

BG: Last night when they showed clips from your films, it was clear that you return to certain motifs.
FO: It was terrifying to me to see the clips -- I had the feeling I needed a shrink.

BG: What is inspiring to you these days – are there any current or older movies you’ve enjoyed? Are you working on a film?
FO: I just finished the shooting of a new film in England, I’m in post-production. It’s an adaptation of an English book, Angel. It’s a story set in Victorian times.
The last film I saw in France was Brokeback Mountain. I liked it. I thought it was great -- very well-written and simple and strong and deep. I was amazed because it’s not very often that you see melodrama with male characters, especially unusual to see one with a male character [Heath Ledger’s] who is so strong. I was surprised that an American studio could do this kind of movie.

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