Sunday, April 3, 2011

Francois Ozon: The Personal as Political

The melodrama has twisted and turned in the constituencies of chaotic time, devolving into mainstream skid marks on our collective consciousness, spat out as vivisected nothings, dishonest tearjerkers and romantic comedies starring whoever happens to be the current it girl.

Francois Ozon understands, truly feels the incendiary necessity of reviving the "woman's" picture, as realized by Old Hollywood master Douglas Sirk, New German visionary Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Spanish provocateur Pedro Almodovar. His films, from See the Sea to his current yearly output of exciting "queer" vanguard cinema, pay homage and resuscitate this forgotten subgenre in astoundingly fresh ways.

Potiche (Trophy Wife), his current foray, is an adaptation of a vintage women's lib stage play, set in the late 70's and shot through with a smirk on the face but a heart that beats true blue for his fractured characters. He takes their stereotypes, turns them on their heads and makes us examine the ways we view gender roles, both in films and in life.

 The glorious Catherine Deneuve brings to life the title character, an unassuming, sweet upper class hausfrau condescended to by her philandering, opportunistic husband and pampered grown children, who, through a strange twist of fate, takes control of her life, puts everybody in their rightful place, though remaining loving and warm throughout. The way Deneuve inhabits this woman is one more notch in the belt which marks her as one of the greatest actresses in the world.

Taking the reigns of her hubby's umbrella factory, quelling the labor squabbles so prevalent in that post-awakening  decade, befriending her husband's secretary/mistress, rekindling old flames with the district supervisor (a stout Gerard Depardieu), all while taking care of her family, she begins to find out who she is, and not in any typical manipulative way, but in an honest, culturally and socially conscious respect. She binds the personal and the political, and it feels genuine and refreshing.

Though Ozon steeps his film in a campy, seventies essence, it's heart is true, and that is a very rare feat of style and substance.

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