restricted access Paternal Monsters: Sitcom, Les amants criminels, and 8 femmes
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38 | François Ozon on screen: dédramatisation (Delmotte, “Entretien” 90), which refers to the process of rendering something less frightening, and déculpabilisante (Rouyer and Vassé, “Vérité” 45), or an attempt to reduce one’s guilty feelings (here, about gay desire). As we have seen and shall continue to see in more detail, what is problematized in Ozon’s oeuvre is the fixity of things and people on the one hand and of the cinematic art on the other. Like the dress that gets exchanged between the characters of Une robe d’été and Regarde la mer, like the water that flows in and out of most of his projects, the films of François Ozon are undeniably mutable. Playing on the well-known French homophones mer (sea) and mère (mother) in her article “Toujours tu chériras la mer” (You will always cherish the sea/the mother), Cécile Nicouleaud sees the liquid and the maternal/the feminine as binding elements within Ozon’s cinematic output: “Water is never far away; or rather the liquid element, impossible to define [cerner], fluid and opaque, be it sea, river, blood, sperm or just a water drop” (11). As the ensuing discussion will show, privileging the liquid and the maternal comes at the expense of father figures throughout much of Ozon’s cinema, particularly in the three films discussed in the next section. Paternal Monsters: Sitcom, Les amants criminels, and 8 femmes Looking back on the director’s feature film career in a 2002 review of 8 femmes, Jean-Marc Lalanne asserted that Ozon’s creations had told only two kinds of stories thus far: one dominated by abusive fathers, the other pervaded with madness and chaos precisely because of the absence of the father (“Les actrices” 83). The three works discussed in this section—Ozon’s first, second, and fifth full-length films (released in 1998, 1999, and 2002, respectively)—feature three middle-aged paternal figures who could all, for different reasons, be considered “monstrous” (the label also applies to the protagonist played by Bernard Giraudeau in Ozon’s third feature, Gouttes d’eau sur pierres brûlantes, which will be discussed in another context later on). At first glance these monstrous father figures might seem to comprise a critique of the role of the patriarch within the Ozonian family. In Sitcom Jean witnesses the disintegration of his family with indifference and literally turns into a giant, hideous i-x_1-198_Schil.indd 38 11/16/10 2:07:01 PM The Fabric of Desire | 39 rat. The unnamed, authoritative forest hermit in Les amants criminels viciously sequesters two runaway lovers, eventually abusing one of them sexually. Marcel, the unseen paterfamilias in 8 femmes, though first assumed to be a victim of one of the eight women’s murderous scheme, is later revealed to be a sadistic manipulator and possibly an incestuous father. All three father figures are clearly “removed” both physically and emotionally from the world around them, whether it is their immediate family circle or society at large. All of them get punished in the end for their behavior: two will die, and one is arrested by police. Yet with a filmmaker like Ozon, any seemingly straightforward chastisement of the patriarchal system becomes, upon closer analysis, a much more ambiguous depiction that redefines the boundaries between normalcy and monstrosity, between the familiar and the queer. Like most of Ozon’s early work, Sitcom was made on a tight budget (2.5 million francs, the cost of an average short), a Super 16 camera, and a two-page synopsis; there was no formal script, and dialogues were written immediately prior to shooting. The film was shot quickly in four weeks, recycles a number of actors from previous projects, and introduces new ones—notably Stéphane Rideau, whom Ozon noticed when he played the part of sexually confused Serge in André Téchiné’s Les roseaux sauvages (Wild Reeds, 1994). The very production of the film occurred because Ozon’s original first feature, Les amants criminels, which he later released as his second feature, failed to convince potential producers. Fidélité Productions was on board, but the Centre National de la Cinématographie (CNC), the state-funded organization that financially supports numerous national filmmaking projects, deemed the script of this crime thriller/fairy-tale hybrid “too violent” and refused to offer financial assistance. According to Ozon, funding for Sitcom proved easier to secure because it was a comedy, the...


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