Francois-Ozon-Le-dernier-retroProlific French auteur François Ozon returns with his second movie this year, as following on from the witty and satirical drama In the House, he presents his Palme d’Or nominated Jeune & Jolie – and we had the great pleasure of speaking to the talented filmmaker ahead of the film’s release.

Ozon speaks about his decision to start working with younger actors, giving audience’s freedom in his films, what we can expect from his next feature The New Girlfriend, and why working with Charlotte Rampling is a ‘dream’.

Jeune & Jolie is very different to In the House – not only the content, but even in style. It’s hard to tell they’re from the same director – is that what you strive to achieve?
I try to follow my instinct, I like different kind of movies, different kind of stories and I don’t analyse my work too much. But I think there are some links between all my films, they’re just not so obvious. In the House was about young boys, and now I wanted to make a film about young girls, but they’re both a film about youth.

You do usually work with older actors, but this is the second film in a row that your protagonists have been very young. Why do you think you’ve made this shift?
Because they are fresh, you know. It’s always a big emotion, I like to film someone for the first time, the first tear, the first smile, the skin… Everything is very fragile and there is a kind of innocence with young actors. You give them a lot too, because after the film they can begin a career as an actor, so it’s always a powerful relationship with young actors.

How did Marine come to be in this film? It’s her first big role.
Actually I did a big casting in Paris with a lot of young, French actresses, and many of them were very good, but when Marine arrived, she had something more than the others. She was mysterious, and she doesn’t know it because she’s very shy, so when I film her with a videocamera I realised she was of course beautiful, but she was more than that, she had a real mystery. I had the same kind of feeling when I met Charlotte Rampling for the first time, the kind of actress who is very intense, something happens in their souls and their eyes and for a director it’s always a miracle to have this kind of actor, because the simple shooting of their face tells you an entire story. You can project many feelings, many stories from that face, and it’s something very strong for a director.

It’s a very challenging, brave role for a young actress to take on – were you ever worried that her inexperience could be an issue?
Oh no, I worry, of course! That’s why before giving her the part we had many conversations. I said to her, do you think you’re able to do these sex scenes? Are you able to carry such a part? Because it’s difficult afterwards, maybe not when doing the film – because I work in a very respectful way with the actors and actresses, especially for the sex scenes – but afterwards with the press, the audiences… it will be difficult to carry. Marine was very confident though, very strong, she’s a very mature girl. I think she trusted me and now she’s very happy to have done the film, and now she’s respected, you know, as an actress.

The character of Isabelle is very elusive, she doesn’t say that much. Was that something already in the script? Or did that Marine bring that to the role herself?
I think it was in the script a little bit, but when I met Marine I realised she was the perfect girl for my film, because I didn’t want to make a sociological film explaining the reasoning behind these themes, you can see that on television. I wanted the mystery, and why some teenagers sometimes can have strange behaviour, and I think with such a girl you don’t need to explain, it’s up to the audience to try to find the keys of this girl. She’s very secret.

You gave the audience so much freedom in In the House, to make up their own minds and create their own story. In this you seem to have done the same thing, because we don’t see Isabelle’s transformation when becoming a prostitute. Is that really important to you, to give an audience this freedom?
Yes because I think the audience are clever, you know [laughs]. The audience doesn’t need to have everything explained and I like having to do some work when I watch a film. To imagine some things myself. I don’t like when everything is explained, or when the director tells me what’s good or bad, I prefer things to be ambiguous. What you said about the fact we don’t see Isabelle becoming a prostitute, what I wanted to say, was that it’s very easy today to do prostitution, in the world of today with the internet you can do it very easily, and that’s why I didn’t want show anything.

Was it quite a challenge for you to write from the perspective of a 17 year old girl?
I was a teenager, a long time ago! I have many memories. Even if I wasn’t a girl, it’s the same thing. The discovery of sexuality, the violence of relationships with parents, it’s always the same story. What was important was the context, so I did some research into the emotions, the feelings, and the violence.

Jeune & JolieGiven the nature of the film, there are inevitably a lot of sex scenes. How did you go about capturing that certain melancholic feeling, because I found them to be really sad.
That’s because she has no pleasure, you know. I think Isabelle doesn’t know what desire is, she doesn’t know what she likes. She’s quite fragile. She thinks, and it’s a bad idea, but her logic is to think that maybe becoming the object the desire of someone else, she will find her own desire, but it doesn’t work like that. That’s why the scenes are quite sad, because she doesn’t have any pleasure. She’s looking for something but she can’t find it.

Early on when she loses her virginity, she has an out of body experience. Does that help the audience form this detached relationship with her?
Yes, I think it was very important. Very often when you have sex for the first time, you are there but you are somewhere else, because it’s so new, you are not able to be totally in the moment. Time after time eventually you are able to have a good relationship with someone, but the first time, for a boy or a girl, it’s like you are watching yourself doing something.

You mentioned Charlotte Rampling earlier as well, and of course you managed to find a small role for her in this. It must have been great having her back on set? Because she is someone you’ve worked with plenty of times.
It’s always a dream to work with Charlotte, because we became very good friends and for her part I had two possibilities. It was Catherine Deneuve or Charlotte Rampling, but I felt with Catherine, because of Belle de Jour it would have been too funny and not a good idea. Charlotte was the right idea, because she’s very closer to Marine, they’re the same kind of acting. Very wise, very mysterious and they are beautiful. Charlotte began as a model too, so I saw so many links between these two women.

So can you see yourself working with Marine again, perhaps as often as with Charlotte?
Yes, yes, I would love to, but I have to find the right story.

Your next film is The New Girlfriend – have you finished filming that one yet?
We’ve just finished the shooting. It’s a love story between adults, and it will be my first love story, which is strange. It’s with Romain Duris, I don’t know if you know him in England, but he’s very popular in France, and then a young actress called Anaïs Demoustier.

Your first love story? Is it important to you to keep trying new things?
I think it’s important as an artist to have challenging things to do, especially when you make a film a year. If I started to repeat myself and always do the same thing it would be boring, I wouldn’t like to work again. You know, it’s a lot of work to make a film, and a lot of energy and tension and money, so if you don’t have the feeling to try and do something new and different, it’s not exciting.

You always write your own screenplays, but are you open to receiving scripts too?
I think I need to go through the process of writing. It’s important for me at the moment to write for myself. Very often I receive scripts from Hollywood, or French screenwriters, but it’s difficult for me to put myself in a project I haven’t written. Maybe one day I will get the perfect script, and I would love to do it, but for the moment I prefer to write myself.

Jeune & Jolie is released on November 29, and you can read our review here.