On my radar: François Ozon’s cultural highlights

The French film director on being haunted by Under the Skin, the music of La Femme, and the place where he had his first kiss

Born in 1967 in Paris, film-maker and screenwriter François Ozon studied at the film school La Fémis, and has cited directors such as Alfred Hitchcock and Jean Renoir as early influences. After the release of his debut feature Sitcom in France in 1998, he achieved international success with murder mystery 8 Women (2002) and Swimming Pool (2003), an erotic thriller starring Charlotte Rampling and Ludivine Sagnier. Since then, he has released a number of films including Potiche, In the House, Jeune & Jolie, and The New Girlfriend. His film Frantz, a drama set in a small German town after the first world war, is in cinemas now and L’amant double is in competition for the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes festival.

1 | Book

The Children Act by Ian McEwan

ian mcewan standing on the edge of a pond
Ian McEwan: ‘The Children Act resonates strongly with present-day France.’ Photograph: Karen Robinson/The Observer

I loved this book, it really moved me. It asks fundamental questions in a sober, intelligent way about the choices we make and our blindness when it comes to our beliefs. The novel resonates strongly with present-day France, where the rise of religion is threatening our republican values and our secular principles. I would have loved to adapt it for the screen but alas a British director [Richard Eyre] was already lined up. I hope his film does justice to the book.

2 | Art

The Ballad of Sexual Dependency at MoMA New York

nan goldins nan and brian in bed new york city 1983
Seriously influential: Nan Goldin’s Nan and Brian in Bed, New York City, 1983. Photograph: © 2016 Nan Goldin/Nan Goldin

I first saw this Nan Goldin installation at the Pompidou Centre in Paris about 20 years ago. I was left with vivid memories of it, which, in their harsh way, chimed with my turbulent adolescence. The new version in New York is longer and less raw but is still moving and powerful, the more so given that many of the subjects, friends of the photographer, have died. In spite of their demise, Goldin’s photos bring them back to life for ever in a flood of emotions, sex and joy. I was also struck by how many of these intimate, personal photos have proved to be a source of inspiration – consciously or otherwise – to many directors and cinematographers of my generation.

3 | TV

American Crime, season two

a young man sits shackled in a scene from the abc crime drama american crime
American Crime: ‘Scenes are put together almost like a puzzle.’ Photograph: Ryan Green/ABC via Getty Images

I came across this series by chance, not knowing anything about it, and I was blown away, fascinated by its narrative and its moral complexity. Starting with a news item about the rape of a teenager in a high school, the series draws a fascinating and intelligent portrait of Obama’s America. It is daring both in its editing and in the way it deals with issues around the politics of education, social class and race. For once, a series that doesn’t depend entirely on dialogue filmed in the traditional shot/counter-shot way but on scenes put together almost like a puzzle. I also like Connor Jessup’s acting; there’s a fascinating guile beneath those angelic features. I’d love to see as much freedom in American film-making but it seems that the best and most inspiring work for fans of great American cinema is now being done for television.

4 | Music

Mystère by La Femme

la femme on stage at the rock en seine festival paris 2016
La Femme: ‘They have an energy and humour that is often missing from French rock.’ Photograph: David Wolff - Patrick/Redferns

I really like the second album by this young French band, who have already been over and played England several times. Their sound mixes French 1960s pop, surf music and Serge Gainsbourg. Their concerts are both theatrical and chaotic, with help from their partners in crime, the House of Drama – made-up performers who act out the songs on stage. La Femme have an energy and humour that is often missing from French rock.

5 | Film

Under the Skin (2014)

scarlett johansson in under the skin
Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin, ‘a dark visual poem that haunts you like a nightmare’. Photograph: Film4/Sportsphoto Ltd/Allstar

Although the film came out in 2014, I still haven’t recovered from seeing it. It fascinated me, got under my skin. It is a dark, visual poem that haunts you like a nightmare but at the same time provides extraordinary sensual pleasure, helped by Mica Levi’s magnificent soundtrack. For me, Jonathan Glazer is one of the best directors working today; he deserves to direct more. I had already really liked his film Birth, which was massacred by the American studios. I particularly recall the disturbing scene with Nicole Kidman and the child in the bath.

6 | Theatre

Ça ira (1) Fin de Louis by Joël Pommerat

a scene from joel pommerat's play ca ira fin de louis at the theatre des amandiers in nanterre
‘A universal experience’: Joël Pommerat’s Ça ira (1) Fin de Louis at the Théâtre des Amandiers, Nanterre, 2015. Photograph: Elizabeth Carecchio

For me, Joël Pommerat is the greatest living French theatre director. I have seen nearly all his shows, even the ones for children, which are just as beautiful, inventive and original. At four-and-a-half hours his most recent production, on the French Revolution, is celebratory and life-affirming, placing us at the heart of the French democratic process. Through his direction, he turns it into a universal experience, showing us the revolutionary heritage of our western societies, now being torn between ultra-liberalism and inward-looking nationalism. To be seen in the shadow of Brexit and Trump…

7 | Place

Le Jardin des Plantes, Paris

flowers in the jardin des plantes in paris
Le Jardin des Plantes, Paris: ‘a perfect place for teenagers to hide’. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

I grew up on Paris’s Left Bank by the Jardin des Plantes, a beautiful botanical garden dating from 1635. Now I live on the Right Bank and each time I return to it I am nostalgic, as so many of my early romantic emotions are linked to that place – the zoo, the tropical greenhouses, the various science museums and, above all, what we call “the labyrinth”. At that time, this part of the garden was dark and wild, perfect for teenagers to hide from adults and parents. It was there that I had my first French kiss!

François Ozon

The GuardianTramp

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