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After '8 Women,' he focuses on just 2 actresses

Director Francois Ozon saw 'Swimming Pool' as an intimate break from the hype surrounding his previous, starry film.

June 29, 2003|Nancy Tartaglione | Special to The Times

Paris — Fortunately for Francois Ozon, his father wasn't much of an amateur filmmaker. That's not surprising, considering he was a professor and not in the movie business, but it was also the thing that inspired young Francois to pick up a Super 8 camera. "I didn't think the films he made of our vacations were so great, so one day, I took the power," laughs the director whose sixth feature, "Swimming Pool," premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May.

In its own way, "Swimming Pool," which opens Friday in Los Angeles, is a sort of vacation movie. A journey to warm climes figures in the story, but the film was also a personal journey for Ozon to a more intimate place and a break with the international hype that surrounded his last film, the musical murder-mystery "8 Women," which was popular in Europe.

Ozon says it was his experience on that picture -- which starred nearly every name actress in France, including Catherine Deneuve, Fanny Ardant, Emmanuelle Beart, Isabelle Huppert and Virginie Ledoyen -- that inspired him.

"After '8 Women' I was very exposed. Everyone talked about the actresses in the movie, and I wanted to come back to something more intimate, about my way of working and about creation. In a way, I wanted to go home again. I did not want to do '8 Women II.' "

For Ozon, going home meant working with two actresses he knows well and with whom he has special rapport. Charlotte Rampling, who won rave reviews in the director's critically acclaimed "Under the Sand," stars as an English crime novelist seeking refuge and quiet time to write in the Provencal getaway of her editor, John (Charles Dance). Her peace is disturbed, however, with the arrival of John's oversexed and under-loved daughter, Julie.

Ludivine Sagnier, who plays Julie and who is on her way to an international career -- she'll be seen later this year in P.J. Hogan's "Peter Pan" -- is also an Ozon regular, having worked with him in 2000's "Water Drops on Burning Rocks" and "8 Women."

For Ozon, what was a major change on this film was working almost entirely in English. The director said the experience was "fun. It was a challenge and forced me to work differently, but Charlotte helped me a lot. You do realize, though, that there are so many subtle differences [in the languages] you just wouldn't have thought of otherwise." As one example, he points out that the saying "don't judge a book by its cover" simply doesn't exist in French, but it was a key phrase in the film, considering Ozon's subject was a mystery writer working on her next book.

During lunch one day at the Cannes Film Festival, Sagnier pointed to the 36-year-old director and said, "The person sitting next to me is very demanding, but we have reached a point where we don't really have to talk to understand each other."

Although "Swimming Pool" left Cannes empty-handed, it will likely end up to be the most commercially successful of the French films that were in competition. It was certainly the most well-received.

Ozon says, "It was good that the film was in competition, but it's not at Cannes that films are best showcased. There were violent reactions to the French films and yet my film opened very strongly." "Swimming Pool" opened at No. 2 in France behind "The Matrix Reloaded," and unlike many Cannes selections this year, the rights to his $6.5-million film had been sold throughout the world before the festival.

Awards not in the picture

Strangely, for a director who has curried much favor with critics, being passed over for awards is a familiar phenomenon for Ozon. After winning several kudos for his early short films, Ozon recently saw himself snubbed at both the Cesar and Oscar altars. "8 Women" was France's entry for the foreign-language film Oscar but was not nominated, nor did the film win in any of the 12 categories in which it was nominated at the Cesar Awards, France's equivalent of the Oscars (it was shut out by "The Pianist").

Asked whether this affects him, Ozon points to a line in "Swimming Pool" in which Dance's character dismisses the significance of awards.

He clearly has a sense of humor as well as a broader perspective. "8 Women" "was such a big success and became such a phenomenon, but it was light and pure entertainment, which is not always very well looked upon in France. I was a young director with a dream cast" and, he perceived, "there was a lot of jealousy."

Besides, says Ozon, the French critics "are known not to be generous. When you're a director, the true recognition comes from the public."

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