I’ve been a fan of François Ozon‘s films ever since his lavish and lush murder mystery 8 Femmes played at our local cinema. Although that “gorgeous confection” (as it was described in a number of reviews) had something of a sour, sardonic kick to it, I still wasn’t prepared for the darker and stranger comedy of the auteur’s earlier work, such as Sitcom and Regarde la Mer (aka “See the Sea”). It was a revelation, and a peculiar delight… especially when that dark, strange spirit was embodied in the blemished and beautiful form of Marina de Van. In Sitcom, de Van played a perky blonde daughter, corrupted by a malignant presence in the family home, which warped her into a suicidal dominatrix. Apparently, in her film student days, de Van shot a short in which her father instructed her on the finer points of oral sex with a boyfriend. In her own feature length debut as writer, director and lead actress, Dans Ma Peau (aka “In My Skin”), she plays an ambitious career woman, who is side-tracked by an obsession with cutting, mutilating and consuming her own body. What I’m trying to say, is that she is not exactly “The Girl Next Door” type… so when she rocks up in Regarde la Mer as a backpacker looking to spend a few days camping in the backyard of an isolated young mother, with a vulnerable newborn to look after, I guessed from the off that things probably wouldn’t be ending Happily Ever After. And I was right.
How close the on-screen de Van is to her real-life counterpart, I don’t really know. It’s none of my business either, of course… but still, I’m grateful that there are Artists who do not hide behind the illusory goal of Perfection. No doubt there are many healthy, happy, clean-living types out there who really do live on “Planet Baywatch”, with their tanned, toned, flawless bodies and snow-white teeth… but if that were the only vision of humanity projected on to our screens, then I for one would feel even paler, weirder and uglier than I already do. The ambiguity and ambivalence of French cinema is comforting to me… as a Repressed Rule-Follower, I can’t help but admire those who upset “bourgeois” sensibilities with their Art. One could argue that it’s a lot easier for us to face our own Shadows when the pop-culture we consume acknowledges that such things exist… the theory being that once you come to terms with your darker half, then you become healthier, psychologically and spiritually… and less likely to have some sort of psychotic episode, further down the line. Not that I’ve read any of Carl Jung‘s work, of course… just bits and pieces by other people who have! But that, perhaps, is the main attraction with auteurs like de Van, Ozon and Catherine Breillat… they think the unthinkable, and then polish it up into a presentable form, for us all to chew over in safety and comfort. It is, I believe, a vital public service that they perform… and God love them for it.
De Van is getting more attention at the moment, as her new film Ne Te Retourne Pas (aka “Don’t Look Back”) has scored a midnight screening at the Cannes Festival. There doesn’t seem to be much information floating around about it, aside from the fact that it’s a “psychodrama” about a woman who feels estranged from her own body and existence (shock!). The fact that it stars the not-entirely-unattractive Monica Bellucci and Sophie Marceau should bring in the punters. Not sure how I’ll ever get to see it though, now that my local cinema has stopped bothering with “world cinema” altogether… but presumably it will be available on DVD eventually. As a geeky completist, it bugs me that her short films are unavailable at present, in this country… let’s keep our fingers crossed that this new flick is a massive hit, prompting “them” (whoever “they” are) to compile all of her previous work, so that I can complete my collection.