Frameline, San Francisco's International LGBT Film Festival, the world's largest and oldest queer film festival, celebrated its 30th anniversary in June and presented its Frameline30 Award to French director François Ozon.
He, in turn, brought along his eighth feature film in as many years, Time to Leave
. Ozon is known in part for his great talent for reinventing his style with every picture; satire gives way to camp, which gives way to intimate solemnity and so on. Time to Leave
, he has said, is the second film in a trilogy on death and mourning; the first, and widely regarded as one of his best, is Under the Sand
Even as the center plank of such a triptych, Time to Leave
is not as daunting as it might sound. While it does take several stylistic cues from from its predecessor, where Under the Sand
might leave you cold, there is a warmth in Ozon's latest film which may hinge on his extremely spare but confident use of sentimentality. It's also notable as one of the rare Ozon films that offers up a protagonist we could possibly see as a projection of Ozon himself, as his films are so often populated by famous older actresses or luscious younger ones. Romain (Melvil Poupaud
) is a gay photographer who discovers he has a terminal illness and Time to Leave
follows the last weeks of his life as he prepares for death.
How has the reception been so far to Time to Leave?
In France, for such a film, it was successful. The subject is pretty dark and difficult but the response was good. I've had many letters. I've never had so many letters from people after a film.
From people who had gone through similar experiences with family members?
Yes, or people who were touched by the story.
So, with a film like this, or all of your films, how do they change when you have to talk about them so much? You're a very successful French director, and you have to speak about your films a great deal.
I feel a little bit depressed [laughs]. I would like not to have to speak about my films. I would like that the films could be enough. But we are in a society where we have to make a promotion, we have to explain everything, so I have to speak about that, but I would like just to make them and it's enough. But you have, all the time, to promote them. So it's just one part of the job. But when I began to make films I didn't know it would be like that!
Now, when you went to film school, Eric Rohmer was one of your teachers?
When I was at university [at Le Fémis] he was my teacher, yes. And he was a very good teacher. A very funny teacher. It was funny because he was very concrete about things. For example he said about Les Nuits de la pleine lune
, he said, if you need some carpet, I know the place, the cheapest in Paris, so he gave us the address. At the same time, to explain what was a wide shot, a close-up, all these kinds of things, he showed us a match of tennis. It was very simple but very easy to understand.
Did he ever use any of his own films as examples?
No. He was very shy at the same time. It was very funny because all the female students were very excited because they thought to themselves, I would like to be an actress of Rohmer, so at the end of the class, all the girls gave him a picture, to be in the next film of Eric Rohmer. But he was so shy.
Have you kept on working with any of the actresses you met while you were at school?
Yes, I work with Marina de Van
and another actress called Lucia Sanchez
And when you first started making films, you were making short films. How useful was that to you and what was the transition like?
I think short films are real films and they're a way to learn how to tell a story under very difficult circumstances, because you don't have money, you don't have good actors very often, and you have to go directly to the point, you know, you don't have the time to develop your story, so you have to be good at it the first time. So it's a very good school and actually I really enjoy it. It was a very good experience for me.
You've made another short film recently, haven't you?
I did one last year. I did a short film of 30 minutes [Un lever de rideau
] and it was very exciting to go back to this kind of experience because it was just one week of shooting with good actors, one place, and no money [laughs]. So it was very fun. And it's good because you don't have commercial obligations. There is not really a market for that, so I just do it for the fun, for the pleasure of making a film.
It seems that you're still willing to experiment in your feature films, though, so it doesn't seem like you're too concerned with commercialism.
Because my films are low budget, you know. They are not very expensive. And because I had a huge success with Swimming Pool
, 8 Women
, now I have a kind of freedom to make what I want - and especially for this film, Time to Leave
, the fact that I had done Under the Sand
, which was also a film about death, about mourning, and the film was successful, helped me to find money.
You seem to make a mixture of larger, more theatrical films, and smaller films. It seems lately, with Under the Sand, 5x2 and now this film, they are becoming more intimate.
No, it's just a way to experiment with different things. I love theatrical qualities in films too, but I like to change and because I do a film a year. I need the chance to do something new, a new challenge. And then the style of the film depends on the story. I wanted to do something very pure, minimalist, but for 8 Women
, it wouldn't have worked. So each time it's a new story.
You've worked with all these amazing actresses from the history of French cinema, in 8 Women in particular...
Yes, but I need to have a subject, to have a story, to find the actors. I don't want to work with an actor without having a story. So, for me, I need to have an idea of the story I want to do, and then after, in the casting process, especially, for example, for 8 Women
, we understood it was a "whodunit." But it was a film about the French cinema, too. I don't know if the American audience can understand all the connections, but it's a game about the relationship between the French actresses and the history of French cinema. And I realized it was a film about the mother, the sister, the grandmother, but also about Catherine Deneuve
, Isabelle Huppert
and Danielle Darrieux
, all these women together, so it was different levels of reading the story.
And what was it like to have all those women together on set?
It was nice. I was very unconscious, I think, but the fact that there were so many egos on the set, they cancelled each other. They knew that everybody thought that the film would be a nightmare, and because they are very clever, they did their best to have a very good time.
When you work with someone like Charlotte Rampling over time, does your approach change?
Yes, of course. When we know each other, like with Charlotte, we are very good friends now, so things have changed. I think there is not one way to direct actors. Sometimes you have to adapt yourself to the personality of the actor, so with Charlotte it's very easy because we know each other very, very well so I don't need to speak so much for her to understand me very quickly. But sometimes, for the other actors, it is more difficult; you have to explain many things and to talk and to talk, so, it depends.