Dir: Francois Ozon, 1998. Starring: Évelyne Dandry, François Marthouret, Marina de Van, Adrien de Van, Lucia Sanchez. Foreign.
François Ozon is known, for the most part, for his thrillers and films that more or less focus on romantic scenarios, whether they be heterosexual or homosexual. His films have a touch of absurdity, but not always necessarily for absurdity's sake, if that makes any sense. Sitcom is my personal favorite among his works because it takes the concept of a sitcom—the suburban family with teenage children—and heightens it to incomparable and outrageous extremes. These sorts of television series are usually about families pulling together to overcome obstacles that every family eventually faces. For many viewers, they present a fantasy in which you can escape your own family, with subjects that many view as perfect. Some even see these characters as people to measure up to. I'm more referring to shows like The Cosby Show, where people have a cookie-cutter existence. However, in the mid-to-late '90s, there was a trend of shows that gave you the exact opposite feeling, like Married with Children. These shows were unrealistic, often trashy depictions of home life that were pleasurable because they came off as something that an average person could measure up to.  Not to mention people found the tastelessness funny. But the bar was lowered, so to speak. Ozon's Sitcom lowers the bar even further and takes its time presenting a ludicrous plot that glorifies fetishism, tactlessness, neurosis, and sociosexual disarray.

The family in focus starts out average; a father (François Marthouret) who's the breadwinner and fairly detached from everyone; a mother (Évelyne Dandry) who does the child-rearing and is a nervous wreck; a son, Nicolas (Adrien de Van) who is introverted and academic; a promiscuous daughter, Sophie (Marina de Van) with charm, a cute boyfriend and a lot of vulnerability. They get a Spanish maid, Maria (Lucia Sanchez) who is married to a man from Africa named Abdu. The balance is stagnant—not a threat to the viewer or even that interesting. One day the father comes home with an albino lab rat, which is met with adoration from everyone except the mother, who finds it repulsive.

Nicolas is the first to cradle it and spend time with it alone, but while gazing into its red eyes, a change occurs in him. He goes to join the family at dinner, which his mother has turned into a special occasion by inviting Maria and Abdu. He gathers the impulse to announce to the family that he's homosexual. No one seems to care except his mother, and when Nicolas goes to him room shortly after, she sends Abdu, who coaches teenaged boys in sports, up to talk to him. Abdu talks to him while admiring the rat until it bites him, and he suddenly becomes homosexual as well and comes onto Nicolas. Soon everyone who glares at or touches the rat in an affectionate way becomes considerably different. From botched suicides, sadomasochistic behavior, incestuous relationships and “boys only” gatherings in Nicolas's bedroom, the entire family and Maria go spiraling out of control. Everyone except the father, I suppose, who simply delves deeper into his own passivity. The rat, however, was his idea, and he spends the most time with it, leading to terrifying and violent nightmares that are presented as real events and flashbacks at first. When it finally becomes apparent that the rat is somehow the cause of all their “troubles,” they ask him to get rid of it. But the little devil refuses to go quietly...

I'm straying from heavy plot description because the scenarios are not only indescribable, but best experienced firsthand. It measures up to the same jaw-dropping dark humor of Todd Solondz and the senseless, yet brilliant repulsiveness of John Waters. The cast was also extremely well formed and balanced. Marina de Van worked with Ozon before in 8 Women, and some might recognize her and Adrien de Van (her brother) from the grotesque French film In My Skin, which Marina wrote and directed. Sanchez is wonderful in everything I see her in, especially the French film Carnage. The ending was unbelievable, ridiculous, and oddly wonderful. The film is not something to be bought into, and its lack of allusions is what makes it so comforting. I simply didn't know that Ozon had it in him, and Sitcom is one of those films that you can enjoy re-watching because it's not designed to be climactic—just tense and out of this world. Highly recommended.
Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Aug 10, 2011 5:31pm
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