Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 26, 2005 11:47 pm 
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White rats can make you gay

A wry funny look at the bourgeois family and sexual temptation. According to the French movie website Allociné this is Ozon's first full-length film. Perhaps that's not totally accurate. But assuming that it is, he got off to kind of a late start (he was thirty-one then, now he's about thirty-eight) but has had a pretty amazing, high-profile career since then. The father brings home a pet white rat and the sight or touch of it seems to make everybody go sexually haywire beginning with the son's dinner declaration that he's gay. Well-paced amusing outrageous polymorphously perverse and at the same time in a French way genteel, Sitcom has the bright glossy upper middleclass look you'd probably expect from a TV family comedy. An American newspaper reviewer said this is "John Waters crossed with Eric Rohmer," but for various reasons that is silly. At first I thought Ozon was somewhat derivatively channeling Almodóvar, and there is even an obstreperous Spanish housemaid. Ozon's personal touch is that she has an African husband who seduces boys in his gym classes. Ed Gonzalez got it right when he wrote that this is a bad movie but "its queering of genre conventions is still refreshing."

It's not revolutionary though, and that goes for all his films I've seen (Water Drops on Burning Rocks is still on my to-see list): Criminal Lovers, Under the Sand, 8 Women, Swimming Pool, 5x2. He's had fun with these and so have we, but there's a certain lack of conviction or consistent style (apart from the gay sensibility) and given that, it's worth looking back at this "minor" effort. It may have more meat in it -- and confront more personal demons -- than the slick ones with Charlotte Rampling.

We can track back those demons in the US DVD's one extra -- Ozon's very first film, a seven-minute silent in color made in 1988, Photo de famille (Family Photo). Like many fledgling efforts its cast consists of the young filmmaker's family members and they're used to show how a youth casually kills his whole family after dinner, poisons his mother, stabs his sister and smothers his father -- with a smile on his face every time, and then props up the dead bodies on a couch and poses with them for an automatic camera photo, throwing back his head and grinning from ear to ear. The young killer (Guillaume Ozon) looks like River Phoenix so that's a plus that would not have eluded the filmmaker whose young male principals in Les amants criminels were good enough looking to be given the full lush gay beauty treatment by the super-campy photo team Pierre et Gilles. Sitcom obviously realizes this early fantasy of intra-familial hostilities with a lot of embroidery added. Sitcom's siblings are played by an actual brother and sister, Marina and Adrien de Van (they sound like the incestuous siblings in Nabokov's Ada!), Marina being an old collaborator and schoolmate of Ozon's who's made films of her own. It's an amusing touch that Stéphane Rideau, who's starred in and directed a number of gay films, plays the sister's straight boyfriend. I assume the Ozons in Family Photo are the actual brother and sister and mother and father. Ozon is doing the same thing in Sitcom; it's just more elaborate.

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