With films like Sitcom, 8 Women and 5 x 2, it’s surely been firmly established that you can take nothing for granted from a François Ozon film. Ricky, the latest film from the director, recently premiered at Berlin and now on general release in France, once again sees Ozon leap off in a completely new and unexpected direction. Set in the modest working-class environment of high-rise housing complex, Ricky could hardly be further away from the lush Victorian romanticism of the director’s previous film, Angel, but as ever with Ozon, there’s rather more going on than is at first apparent on the surface.
It’s in this high-rise complex that factory-worker Katie (Alexandra Lamy) lives as a single-parent with her daughter Lisa (Mélusine Mayance), struggling between the demands of her job and looking after her daughter who she drops off and picks up from school on her motorbike each day. A passionate encounter with a Spanish immigrant worker Paco (Sergi López) at the factory one day however turns into a more serious relationship, changing the dynamic of the family in a way that the young girl Lisa finds hard to accept. It becomes even more difficult when her mother becomes pregnant and gives birth to a new baby boy, Ricky.
Thus far, there’s a sense of gritty social realism in the settings and the relationships, one that Ozon – who certainly couldn’t be associated with this type of filmmaking – achieves particularly well through simple background details that define their lives and limited aspirations and through some strong casting. French TV soap actress Alexandra Lamy fits the bill of a working-class single-mother much better than would a more conventional casting of a French starlet like Ludivine Sagnier, while Sergi López manages to capitalise on his slobbish qualities with the sense of potential underlying menace and uncertainty about his character that makes little Lisa and the viewer unsure of his intentions and position in the new family. Along with a tearful prologue to the film on the part of Katie to the Social Services, this concern seems to be borne out when the new baby starts to exhibit severe bruising on his back. Paco denies having manhandled the child, but Katie doesn’t believe him. It transpires however that there is another reason for the bruises on Ricky’s back – the child is growing wings.
Well, I did warn you – you can take nothing for granted in a François Ozon film. The inclusion of such subversive and incongruous elements is commonplace in the director’s films and, as here, they can either throw the viewer out of the film or lift the film to another level beyond the playing out of genre filmmaking conventions. It’s certainly a risky strategy, but completely in keeping with Ozon’s outlook and methods, looking as it does at the fictions we create out of our own lives in order to make them acceptable and liveable. As with Charlotte Rampling’s widow in Under The Sand, believing against all reason and evidence that her husband is still alive, with her writer spinning a fiction out of her writer’s block in Swimming Pool or with Romola Garai in Angel fantasising a life of fame, adulation and celebrity to hide from her humble upbringing and the uncomfortable horrors of the world outside, Ozon gives the viewer the option to accept those fantasies on face value as they are viewed by their protagonists, finding a way to express the complex sentiments that the characters live through without betraying the harsh truth of the underlying reality.