François Ozon on Deneuve and Demy

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French director François Ozon tells of the inspiration behind his delightful camp comedy, 'Potiche'

Another year, another film by French director François Ozon. His latest, ‘Potiche’ is based on a play by Pierre Barillet and Jean-Pierre Grédy, tells the tale of a trophy wife in 1970s provincial France and the bigotry she suffers when asked to manage the family’s umbrella factory. And she’s not just any trophy wife, but one played by Catherine Deneuve, who delivers one of her funniest performances to date.

How did you come across the play?
‘Bychance: I saw a filmed version on DVD and instantly thought it had an amazing part for an actress. The story was funny and old-fashioned and I thought it had no connection with the situation of today’s women. I had the material in mind for a long time, but I didn’t know what I could do with it. Then, during the 2007 French presidential election campaign, we had a woman, Ségolène Royal, going up against Nicolas Sarkozy, and I was shocked by how misogynist the attacks against her were. And then I re-read the play and realised maybe things hadn’t changed so much.’

Catherine Deneuve feels like perfect casting. Would you have made it without her?
‘If she said no then I  wouldn’t have gone ahead. There was no one else in France who could do it. In England, there’s Helen Mirren. In America, there’s Meryl Streep. But in France, she was the only one for the part.’

You’re talking as if an English-language remake is already in the works?
‘We have had propositions from America, but they want to change the story. I’m convinced if they do it, they’ll make it about a modern-day American trophy wife, and the ironies will already be lost.’

How sincere is this film about its more melodramatic elements?
‘It’s very sincere, why wouldn’t it be sincere? Look, I know melodrama is a very dirty word in England, but it’s not for the French, because we are more sentimental than you. The English see irony everywhere. For me, being French, I’m very romantic.’

Is it easy to direct an actor like Deneuve?
‘Catherine has made so many masterpieces that she really doesn’t care. She has nothing to prove, she does it for pleasure. In this case, she was very fond of her character, and that’s always a good sign.’

How much was the look of this film a reflection of your own childhood?
(Sighs) ‘A lot…’

Did you have a rotary telephone covered in brown velvet?
‘My grandma has such a phone. For me, all these small details were like Proust’s madeleines. I’m very involved with the production design because it’s very important to get it right. The costumes, too, are very important. My hope was that the story is reflected in Catherine’s clothing, so in the beginning there are things with big, furry collars, and then later it’s very smart and formal.’
 
A lot of reviews have compared
the film to Jacques Demy’s ‘The Umbrellas of Cherbourg’, but it also reminded me of his later film, ‘Une Chambre en Ville’.
‘Ahh, a beautiful film which was absolutely not successful. And you know , the funny thing with “Une Chambre en Ville” is that Demy wanted to have Catherine and Gerárd [Depardieu] in the leads.’

Really?
‘Yes! And Catherine said, okay, but only if we can sing with our own voices. Demy said no because he wanted the sound to be dubbed, like he had with Catherine in “Donkey Skin” and “Les Demoiselles de Rochefort”. Then Catherine said that she only did that with those films because nobody knew her voice. So they did some tests and Demy was not happy with their voices because he wanted something more polished, like a Broadway show. So she didn’t do the film. They didn’t fight, but they separated. They were very good friends before that, and it’s very sad, because I think the film would have been much better with Catherine and Gerárd.’

But unlike ‘Une Chambre en Ville’,  your film went down well in France,
‘It was a huge success. It got more than two million admissions. That’s less than “8 Women”, but it’s getting there.’

Do you know which kind of people went to see the film?
‘Old women and gays. That’s my audience!’



Read our review of 'Potiche' here

Author: Interview: David Jenkins



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