Saturday, May 11, 2013

A Writer is In The House

During a previous incarnation as an actor, I was privileged to study with the inspirational Nikos Psacharopoulos. Possibly the greatest compliment Nikos would pay to an actor was to say that he or she was "watchable." This didn't necessarily mean that you'd brought the character to life or had gotten to the root of the scene. It did mean that, whatever you were doing, you'd committed to it entirely and made it so interesting that the audience simply couldn't tear their attention away from you. Unlike the numerous, richly-varied techniques that artists can draw on to enrich and sustain their work, "watchable" can't be taught; it's innate.

For me, when something is "watchable," I suspend all other judgement of the piece, because I'm just so happy to be that interested. I find Fran├žois Ozon an enormously "watchable" filmmaker. I remember walking out of 8 Women, completely bemused but delighted, thinking "I'm not sure why, but there's something about this film..." I still can't express "why," but Ozon continues to engage me in that way. So, during a flying visit through Paris in October, I was ecstatic to see the kiosk ads for his new film.

I finally got to see Dans La Maison in NY, just the other day. As anticipated, it's absolutely "watchable." As an extra bonus for a writer, it's Ozon mapping the cellular structure of the artistic mind.

Take a look at the trailer for the US release. You can view it at the website of the Washington Post (see YouTube for other release versions). It looks like a thriller, doesn't it? You wonder: is the boy a stalker? a serial killer? Whose lives will be destroyed?

This is the same kind of thing that Ozon did with Swimming Pool. Well, not remotely the same plotline; but exploring the idea that the process of creating a story is as treacherous as a planned crime and that the artist and those whose worlds touch on his/hers are vulnerable to the fallout of that process.

On the day that I went to see Dans La Maison, it was pouring in NY. Sheets of water in half-hour bursts, alternating with lesser torrents that soaked through rain gear and spilled off the edges of umbrellas, soaking whatever lay beneath. The streets were flooded ankle deep, so that litter was drawn along by currents. I walked 2 miles from my dentist appointment to the cinema, stripped off my raincoat and kicked off my sodden mocassins. From the knee down, my jeans were plastered to my legs. While immersed in Ozon's world, I forgot all about this.

No super-heroes, no chase scenes, and the only explosions being of the kind we all experience with the changes in our lives. 105 minutes later, it was a rude surprise to return and have to shrug back into my soggy gear and face my own world. All this from a story about writing. "Watchable" is only part of it.

[side note: 20th Century Fox made a big mistake by not thinking outside the box and handing over the remake of Fantastic Voyage to Ozon. The "patient" would probably have ended up being a writer, or maybe a filmmaker, and the story would be twice as fascinating as whatever love story James Cameron is imposing on Shawn Levy.]

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