Director's Cut: Five Questions with François Ozon ('In the House')


It can be hard to keep up with François Ozon, a prolific and prodigiously talented French filmmaker who's been reliably churning out modern classics like "Swimming Pool" and "5 x 2" on a near-annual basis since the turn of the millennium. And it's not like he's slowing down – his latest film, "In the House," hits theaters today, and it's arguably the best thing he's ever made. The story of a strange teenage boy who embeds himself in a friend's house in order to mine material for his high school writing class, "In the House" won the San Sebastían Film Festival in 2012, and it finally arrives in American theaters today (here's what our critic had to say about it). had a brief opportunity to chat with Ozon at the Toronto International Film Festival last September, where he told us all about how much he wants to disturb you. Facts, perception, and subjectivity are integral ideas to this film. At a certain point, the reality of things starts to become unclear. Do you feel that there are certain points in the film that absolutely happened?

François Ozon: For me, everything is relative. Everything is relative because I think dreams are relative too. I think that things don't need to happen ... if they happen emotionally, they happen for me. So that’s what interests me. It’s up to the audience to feel what they want. But I tried my way of shooting the scenes to make no difference between what is relative and what is not to be relative.When you see Claude sleeping so you can think it’s a dream, it’s just a deep thought. We work on that in the editing. We try to subvert everything. But the audience has to work. You have to do your own work.

I like to work with genre, I like to disturb the audience using this kind of story and then suddenly changing ... you think it will be sad and actually it’s funny. I know it’s disturbing, but that’s what I like.

Do you think that most audiences will rise to that challenge and embrace the ambiguity?

Well, this film is too ambiguous to be a blockbuster. But I know some American people have said to me this would be a very good remake...but they would change everything.

You have to decide – what [in the story] is true? What's not true? What’s the reality of everything? I remember a film which I think was quite good but was a big flop in America. It was called ... “Birth,” with Nicole Kidman. It’s quite a good film, except for the end which was totally remade. Because I think the script was very ambiguous but they decided to show everything at the end to give an explanation, which was so stupid because it kills the film at the end. I don’t need that.

Are there American directors that you’re interested in, or interested in their careers?

The movie directors I love are older European directors who came before or during the war. Especially all the Germans, the Jews ...  They are really the directors I love. Yes, there are many good American directors. I like David Lynch, I like older people that have a different way. They are in the system and at the same time they have their own view, their own personality and they’re not totally used by the system. They try to keep their work and point of view.

The Hollywood machine is very restrictive and I think that’s a challenge. For you, is there a type of movie that you simply feel is not in your comfort zone?

For me I’m very open minded. I have no problem, as a spectator I can see many kinds of movies. I can see an art movie, I can see a blockbuster, I have pleasure with everything. As a director, I won’t be about to do an action movie, not in term of techniques but in terms of interest. It doesn’t interest me to shoot some cars, some explosions, those kind of things. It doesn’t interest me so I think I won’t be good to do an action movie. Maybe science fiction, I’m not sure. It would be a very twisted science fiction movie.

It would be the best kind of science fiction movie. The last thing I wanted to ask you is just about the young actor who played Claude. The role required a very nuanced performa ... I couldn't decide if he was a wounded bird or a very wicked boy. Was there something specific you were looking for in him?

Yes actually you know the boy is 16 in the film, so my first work doing the cast was to meet many boys of 16. And I realized they are babies. The girls at 16 are already very often women but the boys they are 16 and stuck to their mothers. So I was afraid, because I said this was the lead part, I have to find someone. So I decided to open the cast and to see older boys. And I saw a picture of Ernst and I thought he had a beautiful look in his eyes, a way of watching the camera. And so I met him, and actually he’s 21 but he looks even 14 or 12 sometimes.

I know the producer was not sure about him because he was not as good as some others who were technically much better but they didn’t have the ambiguity. I know it may have been more difficult with him, but he could be very good and we worked a lot and I learned to know from where he came. And actually he’s very close to the character because lives in a small country, in a small city, not in Paris, he has a difficult background with his family and it was good for the theme. So he had many links, many connections with the character of Claude and he was totally involved and I think at the end it was very good. He was the best choice.