WHILE French traditionally scores highly among alluring accents, what do the French themselves rate?
"We like to keep the English accent because for us it's very sexy," says Francois Ozon, the French director given the chance to test his theory in his latest film, In the House.
Ozon is a well-kent name among Scottish audiences, with his pictures, among them Potiche and 8 Women, appearing in the Glasgow and Edinburgh film festivals. Though his films are known for their variety, some things are givens: besides an entertaining time, the audience is always in for something different, something quintessentially French.
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In the House is no exception. The tale of a teacher and his gallery-owning wife (Fabrice Luchini and Kristin Scott Thomas) who become drawn to a short story being written in instalments by a pupil, Ozon's film is a funny, beguiling, story of obsession and middle-class mores that plays like Hitchcock via Woody Allen.
Scott Thomas, a British actress famous for her flawless French, was asked by Ozon to put her English accent back in. "For the French it's very funny to hear Kristin Scott Thomas speaking in French with an English accent. It's sexy and a little bit ridiculous; perfect for the part," says Ozon.
Ozon's parents were teachers so he was familiar with the weariness displayed by Luchini's character when confronted by a pile of unmarked exercise books.
In the House began life as a play, The Boy in the Last Row, by Juan Mayorga. Ozon knew immediately he wanted to make a film of it, but he learned a Spanish director had the rights, and was afraid it was Pedro Almodovar. It wasn't. Luckily, though not for the unknown Spanish director who could not raise the money, the rights came back on the market.
Key to the film's success, besides Scott Thomas and Luchini, is Ernst Umhauer who plays Claude, the talented pupil. The stage actor was very good, says Ozon, but he was 26. "On stage the age is not very important. If the actor looks young you can imagine he is 17, but for film it has to be very realistic." He saw 17-year-olds but they didn't have the maturity to play the cool Claude. Umhauer was perfect. "He looks 17, even 16, but was 21."
Ozon has worked in Britain, directing the romantic drama Angel with Romola Garai. Easy to work in another country? "It was a nightmare," he laughs. "Not a nightmare but it was another way of working. It was not my maternal language, it was quite difficult for me to adapt myself to the English system. At the same time I loved working with English actors who are very professional."
Another element uniting Ozon's films is the prominence he gives to women, as seen in 8 Women. With a pantheon of French female stars, including Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert and Emmanuelle Beart, it was, admits Ozon, "very tough" to keep everyone happy. There is no one way to direct actors, he says, each one wanted something different.
"I had to cut myself in eight, to change my language with each actress. Sometimes I became totally mad."
Now 45, Ozon would consider working outside France again if the project was right, but there is no burning desire to do so.
"In France now, because many of my films were very successful, I'm quite free to do what I want. I have the final cut, I can find the money because my films are not very expensive, so why move?" Pourquoi indeed.