When Katie (Alexandra Lamy) meets Paco (Sergi Lopez) during a cigarette break at the cosmetics factory where they both work, her life is about a step shy of being in the dumps. The job is hard, she’s underpaid, and her husband walked out on her years ago — leaving Katie to pay the bills and look after their daughter. But Paco looks into her eyes and tells her quite frankly that she’s charming. He takes her to dinner and, sooner than they both expected, moves into her apartment. Katie’s daughter, Lisa (wonderfully and intelligently performed by Melusine Mayance), is more than a little miffed. Still, a new family life begins, albeit in awkward fits and starts.
So far, so ordinary: But when the story is from French filmmaker extraordinaire Francois Ozon, normality can’t be the norm for very long. Ozon is an auteur known for throwing curve balls out of left field — his specialty is a meticulously timed outrageousness that defies any particular style. Ozon strives for strangeness the way Woody Allen strives for laughs: In his films events unfold in curiously skewed or lopsided fashion; the structures are anything but linear; and his characters often say and do twisted, inexplicable things.
In 2000′s “Under the Sand,” a woman loses her husband during a vacation at a seaside resort. She searches for him frantically, alerts the police and finally, at the end of a solitary summer, returns to Paris where the couple had shared a sumptious apartment. After dinner with friends one evening, she returns home and immediately gives way to a sexual fantasy involving many young men running their hands over her body. And in “5×2″(2004) a husband can just not take the fact that his wife is going through an extremely difficult labor in delivering their first child, and goes out to have a thick, bloody steak in a cafe with his cell phone turned off.
“Ricky” also has its share of weirdness, but it’s un-Ozon-like in that the queasy sense of distorted reality isn’t in the details, but in the overall story itself. The typically Ozon-esque, nonlinear story begins with Katie weeping to a doctor that Paco has left her after he abused their infant son Ricky (Arthur Peyret). The sequences zig-zag back and forth from that point — Katie and Paco married; Katie in the delivery room; Lisa having her first crack at picking up her baby brother.
It wouldn’t be a spoiler to say that Ricky is not the healthy, “normal” boy everyone assumes him to be: Some time after his birth, he begins to sprout a set of wings on his back and becomes adept at flying — first in the family’s apartment and then in public places such as a supermarket and a park.
The real spoiler is how Katie, Paco and Lisa react and/or deal with Ricky, and this is where Ozon has stashed the bulk of his ammo. From Paco caving into media attention and agreeing to a press conference, to Katie wrapping up Ricky in a towel and escaping from the hospital (where the baby was semi-incarcerated for observation), the camera lingers long and steady, reflecting Ozon’s ironic gaze upon the family’s foibles, desparation and an ultimately forged bond.
Contrary to any dreaded suspicions (and despite the wings-on-a-baby trappings), there’s not even the thinnest sliver of twee in “Ricky.” This is, after all, an Ozon film, and it’s rife with cool, often sardonic observations on society, family and children. Ricky’s wings, for example, are not the snow-white cherub contraptions we see in Renaissance paintings: They’re speckled brown, short in span (it’s not possible for wings of that size to carry a sizable infant, but let’s leave that to the Discovery Channel) and bring to mind some kind of tasty bird, like a goose. In fact, when Katie first sees the wings, she heads to the supermarket poultry section with a tape measure to compare.
There’s no reference to foie gras, but the family does abstain from eating chicken, and there’s a brief scene about how the wings could be a byproduct of the couple working in a factory swamped in toxins. Ozon throws a lot of balls at once — vegetarianism, environmental issues, the arrival of a “special-needs” child upsetting and resetting a family’s status quo.
Is “Ricky” scary? Probably so, and just so we don’t get confused, Ricky himself is shot in ways that recall baby horror movies such as “Child’s Play” minus the unsubtle makeup. Ozon means to prod, provoke and, occasionally, titillate or offend — there’s even a moment when he composes the frame to mimic Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Annuciation.” In the end he grants the family a kind of happy closure. But the message is clear: Wings won’t guarantee freedom, but instead may form a prison of their own.