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Ambitious And Intriguing
on 14 March 2016
I’ve only seen a handful of French film-maker François Ozon’s more recent films (Potiche, The New Girlfriend), but with this 2012 effort the man strikes me as one of the world’s more interesting writer-directors. Based on a play by Spanish dramatist Juan Mayorga, and with a script by Ozon, In The House is highly ambitious take on themes of academia, art, privacy, class division, censorship, friendship and (perhaps most memorably) the blurring of fact and fiction, delivered by Ozon as a mix of (frequently hilarious) black comedy, mystery, eccentricity and tragedy. If anything, for me at least, the film falters rather on the basis of the scale of its ambition – at times, we just don’t know where it’s going (not necessarily a bad thing, of course) – but it remains a highly intriguing watch, as well as a highly accomplished piece of film-making, with some inventive cinematography (montages, fast motion, etc) by Jerôme Alméras and an intoxicating score by Philippe Rombi.
The film’s set-up is brilliantly done as middle-aged, middle-class couple, Fabrice Luchini’s 'progressive’ teacher Germain Germain and Kristen Scott Thomas’ art gallery manager Jeanne, become 'voyeurs’ to the intrusive antics of the 'fictional world’ of 16-year old pupil to Germain, Ernst Umhauer’s Claude, whose essays create a peeping tom/fantasy world around Claude’s fellow pupil Bastien Ughetto’s Rapha. Ozon gets the hang-ups of the 'bourgeois’ pair just right, overlaying their sense of concern over Claude’s writing (and its potential disruptive effect) with an engaging, dark sense of comedy. The parodying of Jeanne’s 'modern’ art pursuits (constantly mocked by her husband) is, if a little predictable, still very funny. Newcomer Umhauer is excellent as the alternately obsessive, manipulative and vulnerable Claude, about whose motives (peeping tom, sexual awakening, lost soul seeking a family, etc) Ozon keeps us guessing throughout, as is Emmanuelle Seigner as the mother of Rapha, Esther, with whom Claude becomes besotted (well, who wouldn’t, I guess?). Similarly, both Luchini and Scott Thomas are, as ever, reliable, the former particularly good as the 'intellectual’ who lets his passion for art (well, literature), via Claude, lead him astray (I may have detected a 'concluding theme’ around simplicity being preferred over 'sophistication’ when it comes to art).
The skilful way in which Ozon depicts Claude’s ‘dreamworld’ even allows him to get away with, what would otherwise have been, some rather fanciful plotting. And whilst the film’s rather dramatic (and sudden) denouement doesn’t quite convince Ozon’s film remains one that is well worth seeing for its level of ambition alone.