François Ozon

I’ve always been fascinated by films that creep under your skin and stay there torturously for two hours—films such as Hitchcock’s Psycho, Egoyan’s Exotica, Polanski’s Knife in the Water, which build and sustain a palpable sense of dread and make you sit there, squirming, until some nightmarish ending finishes you off. François Ozon is that kind of filmmaker.

The first time I saw the French virtuoso’s short film See the Sea in 1998, I was floored. A bored, young mother, whose husband is away on business, allows a female backpacker to camp on her lawn. It’s not like some Jamie Lee Curtis gore-fest, where you’re yelling at the screen: “Don’t go into the closet!”  This is more like you, alone in your cold, dark seat, pleading desperately, “I don’t know what’s going to happen, but please, please don’t let it, please…,” knowing definitively that it will. Ozon reels you slowly into a state of primal terror and leaves you there to suffer. And it is so, so good.

His features are equally creepy: Criminal Lovers is a sweet fairy tale in which a gorgeous high schooler convinces her sexually repressed boyfriend to kill another student. Then they run off into the forest and meet a big, bad “wolf,” who locks them in his basement and makes the boy have sex with him. In Water Drops on Burning Rocks, the perfect boy, who’s engaged to the perfect girl, falls in love with a pedophile who makes him wear lederhosen. And now there’s Under the Sand (in theaters this May), more normal than the others, but no less effective. Charlotte Rampling plays the devoted wife whose husband disappears without a trace when they’re on vacation at the beach. Maybe he drowned? Maybe he’s run off with a young mistress? Oh, if only it were that simple. Not a chance in the world of François Ozon. — AM