François Ozon is a prolific film director. At the age of 38, which contrasts with his boyish looks, Ozon has made more than 20 films between shorts and features, besides having had the privilege of working with icons such as Isabelle Huppert, Catherine Deneuve and Fanny Ardant, His films are varied in style and theme; he’s even ventured into the minefield of musicals with 8 Femmes (8 Women, 2002) which was a box office success and turned him into an European cinema household name.
In London to promote his new film Le temps qui reste(Time to leave), which adds Jeanne Moreau to his collection of divas, this ex-pupil of Eric Rohmer has a typically Gallic epicurean air, despite the cold he has on the day of this interview.
The films follows a gay photographer, Romain (Melvil Poupaud, the protagonist of Rohmer’s Conte d’été/A summer tale) through the last days of his life after he discovers an incurable cancer. The film is a part of a mourning trilogy initiated in 2000 with Sous le sable (Under the sand) with Charlotte Rampling.
"A friend of mine once said to me: ‘François, you are so full of life and joy, but sometimes your films are so dark. Why don’t you make a comedy?’ That’s when I made Une Robe D’été (A Summer Robe, a 1996 short film). I like to go in several
directions and not repeat myself. I am not a homogeneous person. But I do have an attraction for the darker side of life," says Ozon with a laugh.
He says the idea for Time to Leave was inspired by a personal experience. "I had a health scare which fortunately turned out to be nothing. But the idea stayed with me and I decided to turn it into a film. Of course a project like this could only be possible because of the success of 8 Femmes, which gave me artistic freedom. I’m very lucky like that".
The story in Time to Leave is constructed in a very straightforward manner; Ozon establishes the situation from the off. "I didn’t want to focus on the disease or hospital problems. I wanted to leave the audience free to follow Romain’s journey. I know it’s always a risk to start the film with a strong moment because then you have to keep a certain level to keep the audience’s attention,’ he says.
Ozon is one of the few directors who portray leading gay characters in films where homosexuality is a given and not the centre of a conflict. "I use gay characters where I think it’s necessary. In this film it was important that the character was gay because of the anxiety that Aids had on my generation. I wanted to talk about the difficulty a gay man has when faced with death about the traces he’ll leave. Romain is not a great artist, so a child is a way for him to find meaning in his unjust death".
One of the most poetic scenes in the film is the one in which Romain is invited by a couple to fecundate the wife because the husband is sterile. Romain requests that the husband takes part in the sex act. Was the scene designed as a reference to the Immaculate Conception, with Romain playing the part of the Holy Ghost? "Ah, you’re the first journalist to ask me that in London. You must be Catholic! (laughs). Maybe the way the scene was filmed gives that impression, but when I wrote the script I thought it would be ironic that a gay man impregnated a woman whose husband is sterile".
How was working with Jeanne Moreau who plays Romain’s grandmother? "She was great, very generous and she loves cinema. I needed someone with a past, not just a grandmother, but also a woman. She knew my work; she wrote me a letter when I was still at film school after seeing one of my short films. I think she was a bit sad for not having appeared in 8 Femmes".
The controlled atmosphere of Ozon’s film would have you believe that is a reflection of his modus operandi on set, but he denies that. "It’s strange because people are always asking me that. I usually work with an unfinished script and I
follow my instincts during shooting. I welcome suggestions from the actors and I ask them what they think, feel," says Ozon.
Having reached a high level of recognition, does he feel any self-imposed pressure to meet the expectations of the public? "I don’t think the public expects anything but the critics do. But I don’t care. If you think too much about that, you
get paralysed. I know every time you release a film people wait for you with a gun. Sometimes they shoot, sometimes they don’t. It depends on their mood".
Le temps qui reste (Time to leave) is out in the UK on 12 May 2006. This interview first appeared in Europeanfilms.net.