We are two part-time academics. Ellen teaches in the English department and Jim in the IT program at George Mason University.

Ozon's _Cinq fois deux_ (5x2): The Impossible Task, Kindness (2) · 5 July 05

My dear Fanny,

Here is another blog, a follow-up on my essay on Ozon’s Cinq fois deux yesterday.

I am grateful to a member of WWTTA for sending on a URL which leads to a perceptive information essay on Ozon’s films, Thibaut Schilt’s François Ozon.

After reading the above and reflecting upon some thoughts upon awakening from sleep, I want to add to what I wrote yesterday:

Schilt leaves out something. Or maybe doesn’t want to talk about this aspect of human experience as dramatized in the film explicitly as what is unacceptable socially, not wanted, what might be ridiculed.

As I was waking this morning I suddenly thought of what the film
also omitted and how this was a central element in the failure of
this marriage. (Has anyone else seen Bergman in Ozon’s films?
Schilt, like Anglo critics, has a strong tendency to stay within
his culture, here French and German and so adduces as intertextuality French and German films.) A lack of kindness. I cannot think of one moment in the film where anyone unbends to be openly kind. The shot which is the ad shows the man clutching the woman’s behind. That’s a sexual gesture. Nothing kind or affectionate about it.

There are three stories, two of which are subplots. Yesterday I marginalized one of the subplots. I discussed only the one concerning the woman’s parents. The husband’s homosexual brother’s relationship is also central and unforgettable. I can’t tell from the credits what are their names: perhaps the brother’s name is Mathieu (Marc Ruchman) and the lover’s Christophe (played Antoine Chappey). Or vice versa.

The second episode of the film, where the husband’s older brother and his much younger lover-live-in-companion visit the husband and wife is rather long. The young lover-companion is continually flagrantly unfaithful. The lover exploits a pretense they are all modern people together and thus tough, into anonymity, and no one cares about sexual promiscuity any more. Only a ninny or prude would be made anxious or jealous. But it’s self-evident the older brother does care. He is hurt. He worries he will lose the young man. It’s his vulnerability, his subordination and greater need in the relationship that silences him. Lines are suddenly shot out from him and the husband about this young guy’s cruelty (indirectly of course): he knows he can get away with flaunting and flouting the husband’s brother because this brother is older, aging (gone reedy, weary), in need, lonely. At the end of the sequence the young guy is going off to a party by himself. He’ll be home late.

It’s during this sequence the husband tells of his unfaithfulness to the wife when they were at a party where an orgy happened and he had sex in front of her and though (still thinks) she enjoyed it. As we watch her face while he tells this we see she didn’t enjoy watching, not one little bit.

As in a novel this parallel plot highlights and writs large a shaping element in the main story. Marion and Gilles never admit need that we see; they play a game, hang tough. As the film ends, Marion has come to a vacation spot alone. She has been deserted by her planned companion. Gilles and the girlfriend he has brought are embarrassed by her revelation and change the subject. He is in effect leaving the girlfriend for Marion during this interlude. We never get any sense from the girlfriend of her hurt but a poker face.

I’ve been thinking about these stories (novels and films) with suffering sensitive characters at the center: both Gilles and Marion are types of this. Masochistic aesthetic. Something is left out too when people discuss them. Until recently feminists have been decrying them as lousy role models, and most of those who write either never identify or never admit to it. These stories give the reader who openly feels the way these people do sympathy. They make you feel better by seeing it put out there. You see a version of yourself. (I’m getting this also from another of Susan Hill’s novels, The Bird of Night which I read late into the night last night Extraordinary novel, Fanny).

I think this picture by Ozon is really woman-centered for the first time, not misogynistic because we are asked to see the action from the wife’s point of view. We can glimpse Gilles’s need, but only through a mask and he never gives any sense overtly he feels for others. He never looks for kindness except perhaps when sleeping with his young boy. We really are asked to feel for the wife. The sequence of the wedding is from her point of view, the childbirth. In the first meeting of the couple, the last scene of the film he is leaving his girlfriend; she has been left.

And I was startled and refreshed to see 1) the frank anal intercourse which hardly is ever discussed. Kinsey produced statistics to show that something like 80% of European-American women consent to anal intercourse with their husbands. A half-joke: there is very little that differentiates gay from hetero sex. 2) the whole sequence about her giving birth. I mentioned a while back so few books deal with this. Here is the mother-to-be in all her danger, risk, pain and misery, all her loneliness. She clutches her cell phone when the husband finally calls. "Je t’aime" they say.

Sous la Sable for all it focuses on a wife who has suddenly been deprived of her husband for life (since he seems to have drowned while she slept on the beach or perhaps deserted her) shows a woman who cannot get along with a man. She is utterly forlorn and without meaning. He may also have left her without warning after a lifetime of living together and her chosing not to have a career in order to sit near him with a book. A scene with his mother leaves an ambiguous feel she was somehow to blame.

Yes the films all explore sexuality. They look to see how flexible
sexuality is and it’s clear in this film the husband could play sex
roles with men who are catonite in their tastes.

So (to allude to another of Schilt’s examples of Ozon’s iconoclastic films) when Ozon represents the (stupid, crass, and I see described as entrenched conservative) sitcoms through the underlying sexuality but showing kinky sex, perversions to those who dully just do sex by some kind of safe rote, he is exploring and exploding the false constraints of the genre. By-the-bye Fanny films like Bend it Like Beckham and Big Fat Greek Wedding are sitcoms for movie theatres.

My view is sex is at the center of experience. Novels from the later 17th century on begin to explore this openly and those by women from a woman’s point of view. As I wrote in my Wives and Daughters review, it’s not true (as for example, Linda Nochlin, the art historian has argued) that women have not developed a form in which they express their sexuality and sexual desires. They have. It’s in these much maligned mocked, and marginalized (through labelling the films "women’s") novels.

In her Nights at the Circus and Sadeian Woman, Angela Carter wants to ridicule some of this out of sight: it won’t wash. Sleeping Beauty really acts this way. S.B. wants out and sometimes versions of her in real life can pull it off—because until recently and still less is expected economically from women and less socially outside the family. Carter also wants to present and make accepted another version of female sexuality and that’s not making much headway—itself provokes dismissals of all kinds of Carter’s work which is declared "not mainstream." Magic realism becomes a label which helps dismiss it. And after all what she has presented through Sophia Fevvers, her swan lady, is a benign powerful mother taking care of the feeble hero, Walser, and failing really to for the Justine type, Mignon. Is being mother-as-boss with kindness in the margins or even at the center enough? I doubt it.


Posted by: Ellen

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