Director celebrates screen icons and female strength in campy detour into the past.

ONLY 35 YEARS old, Fran篩s Ozon has quickly established himself as one of France's most prolific and promising young filmmakers. Most of his work has played SIFF or local theaters, including See the Sea, Sitcom, Criminal Lovers, and Under the Sand. His latest, 8 Women (see film calendar for review), is set in a patently artificial '50s past with a stage-derived murder-mystery plot. It riffs on Douglas Sirk and frequently bursts into song, making the movie a strange, funny hybrid that could only belong to his eclectic oeuvre. Ozon recently visited Seattle to explain how the movie came into being, aided only slightly by a translator.

"I wanted to make a film full of joy and colors," says Ozon. "I wanted to make a whodunit with a musical, which is strange. But that's exactly what excited me. I think the whodunit was only a pretext."

But a pretext for what? 8 Women is based on a forgotten play from the '60s and evinces a thoroughly stagy, kitschy aspect. Hence, the plot is less important than the tension between performer and performance, Ozon explains: "I wanted to make a film about characters and about the actresses together, too. I think it's a film about masks—masks of actresses, about women in general. All the French actresses wanted to work with me. I think they were very excited because it was fun for them to play on their image."

Those images were then filtered through old Hollywood iconography. "It was a game about the dress of the American stars of the '50s, too. Because there are many connections between the French actresses and the Americans of those times. Fanny Ardant can look like Rita Hayworth in Gilda, and Catherine Deneuve can look like Lana Turner." Sharp-eyed students of hair, makeup, and wardrobe will also discern references to Ava Gardner in The Barefoot Contessa and a nod to the black domestic in Imitation of Life.

So why this total immersion in a retro-Sirkean universe? "I discovered the films of Douglas Sirk because of Fassbinder" (whose play Ozon adapted in Water Drops on Burning Rocks). "I wanted the audience to enter into a fake world. You have to lose all your references of reality. To put the film during the '50s, for me, it's like science fiction."

And with reality tossed aside, what's finally left? "At the end of the film, there is a kind of solidarity between the eight women together. I think they are evolved to adapt themselves to a new situation. With no patriarch, they will survive."

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