REVIEW: Book Release: François Ozon

Book: François Ozon
Release date: 25th April 2011
Author: Thibaut Schilt
Publisher: University Of Illinois Press

In François Ozon, Thibaut Schilt zooms in on the career to date of the famous French director of the same name, discussing his early life and family background, his qualifications and motivations, and analysing Ozon’s life work. From the short films of his early career as well as the internationally acclaimed 8 femmes and Sous le Sable, Schilt focuses on the many themes of this controversial director’s portfolio, projects such as homosexuality, adultery, murder, mortality and the fantastical.

Starting with Ozon’s early life, Schilt discusses the young director’s commandeering of his father’s camera and use of his family to make early films such as Photo de Famille. He also describes how Ozon mostly deals with taboos and “perversions” in his early career, the director later pointing out in his interview that he started out aggressively with something to prove.

Schilt then chronologically works through Ozon’s films up to the director’s current project, Pontiche. He discusses each of the films’ main themes, plot line and critical reaction; both negative and positive, switching between topics quickly with much thematic discussion. Schilt talks of the actors used, as well as camera technique and the use of music. Ozon’s cinephilia and the tributes to other films and directors through his own direction are also highlighted…

The interconnectedness of these themes is emphasised by the way Schilt jumps between each of the director’s films in each section as each theme is discussed, which Schilt divides into groups of roughly three in each section of the chapters. This can be quite confusing as you adapt to Schilt’s style of writing, as not much time is spent on each point before he moves back and forth between the themes under analysis. The chapters are quite long and Schilt often has a meandering prose.

The book is enthusiastically written and well referenced, and Schilt’s use of so many sources is admirable. Direct citations from screenplay, interviews with the director and quotes from the actors, including their views on their roles and the films in question are all used. Schilt also ensures each of his points are followed with the main critical view points published on each topic, including quotations from critics, which may not back up his own opinion, ensuring a balanced view.

Due to the heavy plot description given on each film, this is best read after having already watched Ozon’s work. Schilt only just holds back on some of the cinematic twists, or denouements (his preferred term). Schilt is very knowledgeable on cinematic theory, and the skills he has gained in the teaching profession are put to good use with his discussion of Ozon’s influences, such as auteur theory, and his contribution to New Wave cinema. This discussion comes across as well informed and easy to absorb, which is enjoyable to read.

Schilt writes intelligently and has clearly aimed to compose a well-researched biographical book on a director who he admires. Due to his obvious passion for Ozon’s work, and an almost eagerness to fit in the many opinions he has on the director, the book can seem cluttered and difficult to follow. At times, Schilt says, “as I have already discussed,” and this can seem the only link back to a point that was discussed but never summarised. This can come across as frustrating; meriting a pause in reading to catch up with the writer and let his points sink in. His passion has perhaps led to a haphazard approach, although it does succeed in drawing you back to the book after a brief respite, and certainly inspires to re-watch Ozon’s films with Schilt’s viewpoint now in mind.

By the point of the discussion of Sous le Sable, 8 Femmes and Swimming Pool, the text feels more coherent, however, perhaps this is just the length of time taken to accustom to the writer’s style, and may vary depending on the reader’s tastes. Shilt’s discussion of the ‘Lost In Translation’ idea (p.119) is interesting and utilizes the professor’s obvious language skills as he points out how Gouttes D’eau sure Pierres Brûlantes may have different significance, depending on whether the viewer is coming to the film in Japan, Germany or France.

Schilt increases his use of the personal tense as the book progresses, and his ideas come across as more developed, leaving more of an impression of his own views rather than a summary of the critical standpoint. This adds a welcome new dimension to what up to this point could have passed for more of a documentation of fact rather than a subjective analysis.

The lack of a final summary from Schilt means the ending of the book is quite abrupt. The fact you have come to the end comes as a shock, however, having the director’s interview at the end is perhaps a cunning move. It enables the reader to read the interview with Ozon after having heard submission of so many thematic standpoints, now hearing directly from the horses’ mouth what Ozon’s intentions are. Schilt’s lack of commentary on this interview (despite extracts being used throughout the book itself) suggests Schilt’s wish to remain impartial, and having already pointed out how Ozon’s films often allow the viewer to come to their own conclusion and take different aspects from each time they watch his work, perhaps Schilt has aimed to offer the reader the same opportunity, leaving you to ponder on the mass of information he has provided.

This book would be ideal for a fan of Ozon who has enjoyed the director’s films, looking for a more in depth view of how the films were received internationally, and wishing to find out more about the lesser known aspects of Ozon’s career and his motivations. The interview is invaluable in providing an insight into the director and confirms that Shilt has drawn the correct conclusions in watching the films as the director agrees with many of Schilt’s points of view on cinephilia, and wanting to offer insight into difficult subjects such as same-sex relationships, patricide and mortality. Although Schilt’s advanced knowledge leads to a complex reading experience, his enthusiasm is passed to the reader, and successfully educates on the life of a fascinating man. AT

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