There are so many points to ponder in French director, Francois Ozon‘s, Holllywood Reporter interview on his new film at the Cannes Film Festival, Young & Beautiful, I don’t quite know where to begin. Particularly since I’m American and not likely to be clever enough to get the creative point of his film (we’ll get to that). But let’s start with his thesis about why women, more than men, will understand his film about a luscious teenage girl exploring the ‘fantasy’ of prostitution:
“I think women understand the film more than men. I think men are afraid because it’s like, ‘Oh my God. There is all that in the head of a woman?’ She is very powerful. But I think women can really be connected with this girl because it’s a fantasy of many women to do prostitution. That doesn’t mean they do it, but the fact to be paid to have sex is something which is very obvious in feminine sexuality.” [Emphasis added]
Hmmm. Really? Most women fantasize about dropping trou and spreading their legs for strangers for a few bucks? Let’s really visualize that, beyond Pretty Woman fairy tales and French romanticism: men of all shapes and sizes, of varying degrees (or not) of attractiveness, who have zero emotional connection to us; who might smell, sweat, be too hairy, grunt disgustingly, cover us with bodily fluids, potentially create pain, and ultimately conclude by throwing cash on the counter or making restitution with our pimp who’ll give us our share for being a vessel for a stranger’s semen.
That sounds SO fun; no wonder we women fantasize about that, right??!
Let’s be clear: this is not a review of Mr. Ozon’s movie. I haven’t seen it and it might well be a stellar work of art; certainly the premise upon which it’s based (which I’ll get to in a minute) sounds compelling. But as a filmmaker out doing publicity for his film, Ozon is fair game for the comments he’s making in support of that film and he’s made a few that merit response. The above is one. Another is his stunningly stereotypical French condescension to Americans:
“I wanted to put the audience in this situation where you don’t understand. I consider the audience clever. I know for American audiences maybe it is a problem, because they want to have all the explanations at the end. But I think for me, what is interesting in cinema is to ask questions. I’m not a politician. I’m not here to give answers.” [Emphasis added]
So we ‘unclever’ Americans are likely to not get his work of art… because we like to wrap things up in tidy little Hollywood endings. We like the easy, unclever stuff. Ah… Ozon. He even goes on to pound that point further, after the Hollywood Reporter interviewer, Rhonda Richford, offers a bit of rebuttal to his theory:
THR: Why do you believe that is a desire? I really don’t think that’s the case.
Ozon: “I think that’s the case because sexuality is complex. I think to be an object in sexuality is something very obvious you know, to be desired, to be used. There is kind of a passivity that women are looking for. [... ]
“It is the reality. You speak with many women, you speak with shrinks, everybody knows that. Well, maybe not Americans!” [Emphasis added]
Oh, there he goes again with us Americans! And what’s this about women wanting “to be used”? What women does he know?
Strangely, and despite his assertions to the contrary, Ozon actually comes off quite like a politician, one who can’t help but insult a certain contingent of his electorate while pontificating to and for those “intelligente” enough to really grasp his finely tuned points (he’d fit right into the Republican party!).
But let’s get back to his thesis. As an artist who’s participated in several film productions, I have a great appreciation for the art of filmmaking, the creativity of story and plot; the impact of narrative message. I am well aware (despite the density of my Americanness) that some stories are best told with the rough, sometimes controversial, edge of extremity, both in the narrative and the images shot to further that narrative. Unlike those who thought the aforementioned Pretty Women was a delightful romp about a young girl coming of age via prostitution, many more judicious viewers were put off by its blithe, hyper-romanticized, and delusional view of the hard art of pay-per-sex. A good, more honest, film about the world’s oldest profession would be of interest to many… even us unclever Americans.
Ozone’s film, therefore, might well provide that, given his explanation of its mission statement:
“Cinema is there to be extreme and you have to push things, because reality is interesting when it’s different. I know everybody is quite shocked about the idea of prostitution, but it could have been something else. It could have been anorexia, drugs, suicide. I just wanted to show that when you are this age there are struggles within you. You have violence inside you need to express and you don’t know how. For this girl, it is the idea of sex, and to do prostitution. I wanted to show she’s quite innocent, because she doesn’t realize the danger of this situation. She thinks she is immortal, like everybody when you are 17 years old. You are afraid of nothing and you need transgression to escape your family. I don’t choose to comfort the audience. The idea was to keep a kind of mystery and it is up to you to do the job. We want to know, but in reality we don’t.”
Sounds compelling. Then he went all jingo sexist on us.
Ozon’s Wikipedia page comes with the following slug line:
François Ozon is a French film director and screenwriter whose films are usually characterized by sharp satirical wit and a freewheeling view on human sexuality.
Given his responses to Ms. Richford at the Reporter, I’d say that’s a fair assessment. And, to be honest, I bet his films are excellent. Controversial, likely visually and sexually right-to-the-edge (and maybe over), and artistically challenging. It’s his view of women – and Americans – that needs some reassessing.
I recognize that the French have a certain ‘anything goes’ perspective on matters of sex (let’s not forget the dismissive/permissive attitudes expressed regarding the “peccadilloes” of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former head of the International Monetary Fund, after he was accused of raping a New York maid), but there are lines to be drawn when discussing what the entire gender group of “women” want or desire.
Mr. Ozon, while your notion that most of us females fantasize about being prostitutes might hit pay-dirt if you’re referring to fun little sex-fantasy play-acting with a known lover, husband, boyfriend; girlfriend, even American women might meet you on that field. Despite your condescending view of our plebian sexuality, we’re a damn big country with a wide variety of women who embrace a stunning spectrum of sexual preferences, so, odds are, a hot “I’ll be the prostitute, you be the businessman from Toledo” fantasy gets played out in the safety and fun of bedrooms all over this great nation.
And, frankly, many people – yes, even Americans – believe prostitution should be legal, giving consenting adults the right to turn sex into industrialized commerce not dissimilar to selling Slurpees at the 7-11 (though here’s an interesting debate on the topic from the New Internationalist). Of course, the presumption would be that legal prostitution would be safe, fair, and non-violent … something most current prostitution is not.
Because while playful sex fantasies are one thing, and legal prostitution is another, the hardcore reality of PROSTITUTION in the real world is quite its own beast. And to presume, suppose; assert that “to be used… to be paid to have sex is something which is very obvious in feminine sexuality,” Mr. Ozon, is to show male arrogance and delusion that competes only with your overblown Gallic sense of superiority. Neither one flies.
I’ll tell you what is very obvious in feminine sexuality: we are individuals, beyond nationality, sexual preference, or choice of sexual fantasy. And regardless of what some women may want or desire sexually (and more power to them), most do NOT want to be treated like chattel for men, do NOT want to be used; do NOT want to be required to perform on demand for strangers, do NOT want to be beaten, oppressed, and victimized, and do NOT want to spread our legs for any Tom, Harry or Dick for the sole purpose of making money.
Even some very clever French women would likely agree.