Wednesday, February 21

François Ozon pays tribute to Fassbinder: “Filmmakers are vampires”

François Ozon is not stopped by anyone. Not even the pandemic has stopped his creative flow. If Woody Allen has stopped making films every year, Ozon has taken that witness and chains project after project, always going through international festivals to show his work. The last one, for the moment because he has already shot the next one, is about a revision of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s classic The bitter tears of Petra Von Kant. If on that occasion, in 1972, the protagonist was a fashion designer who lives with her slave assistant and who enters into a toxic relationship of abuse of power with a young woman, here Ozon changes the gender and places a homosexual director as the protagonist, with a slave assistant and an obsession in the form of an ephebe whom he promises to turn into a star.

The accidental feminism of François Ozon

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It is not the first time that he has adapted the German director, he has already done so in drops of water on hot stones. Here he bets on taking gravity away from Fassbinder’s film. Ozon puts irony and bad milk in his film, which stars a Denis Ménochet that the director himself confesses that he has enough of his own in terms of the hobbies that any filmmaker can have. The tribute to Fassbinder on this occasion is double, since the beautiful poster refers directly to that of Lawsuitanother of the director’s masterpieces.

Make it clear that this is not a remakeand why work with women again if he had already overcome the challenge of doing it with eight in 8 women. What interested him was becoming “a bit like a theater director who takes a classic text, as if it were from Shakespeare or Molière, and gives a new version of it”. “A modern version that suits me, a French version, because I’m not German and to shed new light on it and contribute something, because I think it’s a universal text that can be interpreted,” he says with confidence about this challenge that he defines as the result of mixing “a bit of Fassbinder”, with his imagination and that of the main actor.

The main change in the film is gender. From designer to film director. Ozon did it because he felt that “Fassbinder spoke of him through his script.” “This was confirmed to me by Fassbinder’s editor, Juliane Lorenz, who told me that she had experienced a passion with one of his actors, Gunther Kaufmann, and that she wrote The bitter tears of Petra von Kant, perhaps as a result of that.” He has brought “French humor and more distance” to his version. “The character of Peter von Kant is a drama Queen, because the directors, when they have all the power, are spoiled children and sometimes they behave in a tyrannical way”, he adds and does not remove himself from the group: “All the directors. A director is a child, a child who wants to play and who wants to make his dream come true, and when the dream doesn’t come true he writes about everyone”.

What interested him most about this review was being able to look at the text from the 1970s from “the current perspective, with everything we know now about the relations of domination, about the Weinstein case.” “It talks about power relations. We are in the process of deconstructing all of this, all of these relationships. And what I found interesting was showing someone who really has power. Peter is rich, he is famous, he has money, so he manages to seduce Amir thanks to that, if he had been a butcher or a baker I am not sure Amir would have moved in with him. So he has the power to start. But the interesting thing is that the power is changing. Fassbinder showed that the dominated, when they can take the place for themselves, dominate and things change”, he adds.

Ozon agrees with what Iván Zulueta proposed in Rapture, and is clear that “filmmakers are like vampires”. “We capture things, we steal things from actors that even they don’t know. And that’s what I wanted to express in the casting scene, that at one point, Peter falls in love through the camera, that is, he sees Amir not as he is, but as he is on the screen, and it’s through the camera that falls in love with him”, he explains about his film and about the vampiric power of cinema.

Film directors, when they have all the power, are spoiled children and sometimes behave in a tyrannical way

Francois Ozon
Film director

In fact, he confesses that he experiences “indirectly the same sensations that the characters in my films are going through behind the camera. I share the emotions of my actors. I remember once, a young actor in one of my movies, when they had just shot a love scene and I was behind the camera, he said to me, ‘François, you can stop breathing so hard.’”

Although he says that there is a lot of him in the film, he also makes it clear that he is not a tyrant: “I don’t have a personal assistant, I have an assistant and he is not a completely passive assistant, he is not a slave. Personally, I don’t work with slaves, I work with people with whom I collaborate, who bring me good things and with whom there is an exchange. So no, in that I am not the same, because I prefer to work with people who are not submissive, but people who have their own identity and who can speak”.

His films always reach theaters, and for him it is something important and “perhaps it is even political to defend cinemas against platforms.” That is why it bothers him when “the great filmmakers sign up to shoot with the platforms and make films that are not even very expensive.” “I remember, for example, that in Paris I met Noah Baumbach, who had just done story of a marriage for Netflix, which seems magnificent to me, and I approached him and said, but why have you done it with Netflix. There are no superheroes, no Avengers, no special effects, and he told me a very simple thing, that he did it because he got the final cut of his movie. That was all. And that is where they become strong, that is what they give to the authors, the final cut, and luckily in France I always have the final cut of my films”.