Author: Franciois Ozon
Director: Franciois Ozon
Wow, what a film. Or should I end that with a question mark? This strange thing is a real adventure ride. On the surface it’s a seemingly straight-forward tale about a British mystery writer who goes to France to stay at her publisher’s home to escape for a bit and get some work done. But she’s only been there a short while when the publisher’s daughter shows up and proceeds to turn everything upside down. She’s brazen, a slob, swims in the nude, has different lovers over every night, and drives the writer crazy. In a sense, she’s everything the older, prim and proper lady, is not.
But what seems so straightforward is not. Unforunately, this film tries to be too many things. It wants to be an erotic thriller, a mystery, a love story, a literary enigma.
The film is sensual. I mean every scene. The camera lingers on ordinary things like doorways and windows, the writer’s face as she types, etc. It is the visual aspects that propel the film. The audience is a voyeur. That part is incredible: the film’s worth seeing just for the visuals. However, the plot’s a mishmash of ideas, cliches, red herrings, tributes to other films and filmmakers (Hitchcock, Lynch, Clouzot), and more. There are hints and twists and echoes that make us think more is going on than meets the idea. This all leads up to a Sixth Sense-like twist ending that’s supposed to change everything we’ve seen so far. Unfortunately for Ozon, it does nothing of the kind. Right after I saw this I found myself frustrated, because the ending made no sense to me. Yet the reviews — while not revealing the ending — made it out to be brilliant and clear. To me it was ambigious and cliche. Could I be so wrong? But after reading comments on the Internet, I soon discovered that I wasn’t the only one confused. Many people failed to understand the film. A few people wrote their own explanations, and in reading those I realized something significant: it wasn’t that I didn’t understand the ending, it’s that I was trying to make the ending more than it was. The twist ending isn’t that big of a deal (at least from my perspective). It changed little about the film. As a writer myself, I live within fantasy and reality and the two overlap constantly. So having a writer on a movie screen do the same is not a surprise at all: I expected it. (In fact, I remember thinking during the film that I was surprised Ozon didn’t show us fantasy sequences from the novel the author was writing.) So for me the ending, while it came as a surprise, didn’t change the film. I gather it was supposed to, just like Sixth Sense’s twist made you want to watch it again. No, I kept looking for a deeper twist, more meaning and complexity. I wondered if the daughter was the result of the publisher-author’s union, for instance — but there’s too much evidence against that to make any sense. I wondered many other things, all equally implausible. It was frustrating. But it was when I realized that most of the film is a red herring and it isn’t a complex film at all that things started to make sense to me. Now I appreciate the film’s simplicty and elegance. I still think it has flaws (not enough foreshadowing, for instance), and it’s too dependent on the gimmick ending, but if you just think of this as a simple little mystery-thriller it works much better. Don’t try to work too much symbolism into the characters and odd references: they mean nothing. Unlike a Lynch film, the whole thing’s not supposed to make sense. It’s just a visual feast. Enjoy it. Just don’t be fooled into thinking it’s profound.