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The Fabric of Desire When François Ozon’s full-length film Sitcom débuted in 1998, he had already earned a solid reputation as a talented and innovative short film director. In 1996 the fifteen-minute Une robe d’été (A Summer Dress) received awards at festivals in Brest, Grenoble, Pantin, Dublin, Geneva, Los Angeles, and Locarno; was shown at the Cannes film festival; and earned a nomination for a César (France’s equivalent of the Oscar). That same year, one commentator wrote, speaking of Ozon and fellow filmmaker Laurent Cantet: “Any informed film festival organizer would bet his mother’s life on the cinematic future of these two” (Malandrin 12). His predictions turned out to be accurate, for Ozon and Cantet alike. But Ozon was in no particular hurry to prove this journalist right. Before he made the jump into feature filmmaking, he enjoyed the frantic pace and freedom associated with the production of short films and experimented with multiple formats, lengths, and genres. Throughout the 1990s he collected festival prizes and caught the attention of more film critics: both Cahiers du cinéma and Positif, France’s most welli -x_1-198_Schil.indd 1 11/16/10 2:06:58 PM 2 | François Ozon known film magazines, wrote pieces on Ozon’s shorts months before the release of Sitcom. Not yet thirty years of age, Ozon had become a force to be reckoned with. One of the most provocative aspects of Ozon’s cinema, and one of the reasons for his early critical attention, concerns the audacious and candid ways in which his films tackle issues of gender, sexuality, and identity. Consider the scene in Une robe d’été where we see a young man riding a bicycle clad in a blue, flowery woman’s dress. The light fabric undulates gently in the wind, and a tracking shot records the cyclist’s journey back to the vacation bungalow he shares with his boyfriend. Luc (Frédéric Mangenot) wears the garment out of necessity rather than choice—all of his possessions were stolen on the beach—yet a faint smile appears on his face, signaling that he is beginning to relish the cross-dressing episode. Luc is unsure of his sexuality. Although he and Sébastien (Sébastien Charles) are lovers, he willingly experiences heterosexual intercourse with Lucia (Lucia Sanchez), a Spanish tourist he meets on a deserted beach in the Landes region of southwestern France. It is Lucia’s dress Luc wears on his way home, and the impromptu encounter with the uninhibited woman enables him to experience for the first time both opposite-sex lovemaking and opposite-gender impersonation . The tracking shot of Luc riding his bicycle is repeated toward the end of the film. This time, however, Luc is not wearing the dress (he is in fact meeting Lucia to return it), but has it wrapped around his neck. We see the fabric undulate more intensely now, suspended in midair, almost floating (fig. 1). Fabrics in movement, like that undulating dress, occupy Ozon’s cinema nearly as much as characters themselves, fluttering in a light summer breeze, twirling to the sound of music, or brushing against luxurious marble floors. The concept of fluidity, of which the dynamic movement of clothing in general and the airy summer dress in particular are powerful representations, is at the core of Ozon’s cinema, from his early career as a short film director some twenty years ago to the present. The originality of this enfant terrible of French cinema, an expression used profusely in the French and international press to describe Ozon (Hain 277), lies in his filmmaking style. Drawing on familiar cinematic traditions—the crime thriller, the musical, the psychological drama, the comedy, the melodrama, the period piece—Ozon’s cinema simuli -x_1-198_Schil.indd 2 11/16/10 2:06:58 PM The Fabric of Desire | 3 taneously defamiliarizes those traditions in the eyes of the spectator. His films consistently, even obsessively, venture into uncertain sexual territories, represent human interaction in unanticipated ways, and altogether defy generic categorization. As one scholar observed, Ozon’s films contribute to several genres “without ever approximating to formulaic Hollywood-style ‘genre cinema’” (Ince, “Cinema of Desire” 131). The iconoclastic director thus continually evinces a reticence to fit inside the boundaries of mainstream cinema, engaging in a cat-and-mouse game with critics and often wrong-footing the spectator. The rapidity with which he releases his films—at least one...


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