Filmmaker Ozon keeps oeuvre out of shallow end
Not all foreign auteurs aspire to conquer Hollywood. Take Francois Ozon. After scoring an international hit with his 2003 English-language thriller "Swimming Pool," the French writer-director ignored the siren call of the major studios.
Instead, the "8 Women" helmer returned to his Gallic roots for his next two films, including the 2005 Cannes selection "Time to Leave" (Le temps qui reste), which Strand Releasing opens Friday in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
"I have a French point of view, and I don't want to work with a studio. I want to have my freedom to do exactly what I want," says Ozon, who turned down many U.S. offers in the wake of "Swimming Pool's" critical success. "I want to have final cut. It's difficult to find money in America if you want to be totally free."
Many foreign directors -- from Alfonso Cuaron ("Y Tu Mama Tambien," "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban") to "Amelie's" Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who is set to helm Fox 2000's "Life of Pi" -- move back and forth between native projects and studio fare. By contrast, Ozon insists he's not interested in making the artistic compromises necessary for the box office-driven U.S. film industry.
"I think when you go to America, very often you lose your soul because you have to work in the American way, which is so different from the European way of making movies," he says, adding that the transition is especially difficult for directors who write their own scripts. "When you have the freedom to do exactly what you want, why would you move to America to be totally controlled and to have to work with people that maybe you don't respect and who are difficult to work with?"
Ozon, who writes all of his film's screenplays, points to the career of Pedro Almodovar as a stellar example of eschewing Tinseltown's trappings in favor of riskier, less MPAA-friendly stories. "He's had so many propositions," he says. "But he's still in Europe. And he still makes beautiful movies."
Like Almodovar, Ozon is able to explore story lines and themes not likely to earn a green light from profit-minded studio executives. For example, "Time to Leave" chronicles the final days of a young hedonistic gay man facing a fatal illness -- it's complete with graphic sex scenes and devoid of any sentimentality. Even if an A-list star on the level of a Tom Hanks were interested in performing in such a film, it would make most decision-makers balk.
And though Ozon prefers to remain in Europe, particularly France, he isn't opposed to making English-language films again. He recently wrapped the U.K.-set Romola Garai starrer "Angel," about the rise and fall of a young eccentric British writer in the early 20th century.
"I don't want to make English or French films exclusively. I just follow my instincts," says the Paris native, who speaks flawless English, albeit with a thick accent. "'Swimming Pool' was in English because the character played by Charlotte Rampling was a British writer. And she actually spoke French and English in the film. Each time it depends on the story."
In fact, the thirtysomething director says he is anything but set in his ways. For "Time to Leave," he created a male protagonist -- a departure from his usual female-driven narratives.
"It was a real experimentation because I'm more used to doing films with women," he says. "It's easier for me to work with actresses."