did not become a teacher to coddle teenagers’ self-esteem. He wanted to teach great French literature. That probably sounds nobler than it is in practice. In fact, the after-school tutoring he offers a
talented pupil lead to unlikely scandal in François Ozon’s In the House (trailer
opens this Friday in New York.
begins the new academic year with his usual pessimism, but Claude Garcia’s
first composition catches him off guard.
It displays a voyeuristic fascination and caustic condescension toward
his classmate, Rapha Artole, and the lad’s family. It also happens to be well written: B+. Using his natural talent for mathematics,
Garcia insinuates himself into the Artole household as Rapha Junior’s trig study
partner. After each visit, he writes
what he claims are non-fiction accounts of the Artoles, but Germain analyzes as
if they are part of a developing story.
is hard to tell just how much of Garcia’s forays into the Artole house are
truth or fiction, because the whole point is to keep the audience
guessing. Ozon masterfully adapts Juan Mayorga’s
play, toying with truth and reality in nearly every scene, yet keeping the film
firmly rooted in its characters and their relationships. At times, it comes
across like a comedy in the Annie Hall tradition,
but it becomes steadily darker as the psychological gamesmanship intensifies.
is the sort of arrogantly urbane character Fabrice Luchini was born to
play. Perfectly exhibiting the cutting
wit of a failed novelist, he could be the high-handed French cousin of Fraser
Crane. Yet, it is really up to Ernst
Umhauer’s Garcia to make it all work. He
is convincingly creepy as the young master manipulator, but he also memorably expresses
Garcia’s youthful insecurities at key moments.
brilliant teacher-student tandem is backed-up by a big name French cast,
including Emmanuelle Seigner, Mrs. Roman Polanski, playing against type as
Rapha’s mother. A desperate housewife of
an entirely different sort, she is surprisingly earthy and vulnerable. In contrast, Kristin Scott Thomas elevates
the role of Germain’s gallerist wife Jeanne above a mere I-told-you-so
commentator with her elegance and sly screen presence. Whenever you see KST on-screen you know you
are in for something smart and sophisticated.
Ozon has similar credibility. Frankly, it is remarkable how postmodern In the House is on the page, yet how
absorbing it is on the screen. Masterly
controlling the mood and thoroughly undercutting one viewer assumption after
another, Ozon wraps it all up in a note of near perfection. Very highly recommended for fans of French cinema
and KST, In the House opens this
Friday (4/19) in New York at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema.
Labels: Fabrice Luchini, Francois Ozon, French Cinema, Kristin Scott Thomas