In the House: Can Cinema Teach Us Anything?

04/17/2013 4:00 AM |

In the House
Directed by François Ozon

“The mother, the father, the son… is this Pasolini?” asks high school literature professor Germain Germain (Fabrice Luchini, channeling some of the wide-eyed bewilderment he flashed as a denim-draped twerp in Claire’s Knee) in Ozon’s latest. Relatively dense with literary references, In the House continues Ozon’s exploration of the boundary between the artistic imagination and “reality,” perhaps most satisfyingly pursued in the 2001 Charlotte Rampling vehicle Swimming Pool. This film finds Ozon, a cinematic classicist who seems totally convinced as to the profundity of his rampant condescension, effectively owning up to the extent to which he has taken his cues from that much-celebrated French icon, the Woody Allen of Crimes and Misdemeanors and Cassandra’s Dream. (Indeed, when the protagonist and his wife go on a date to the movies, it’s to see Match Point!) Don’t be alarmed if you find yourself leaving the theater and yearning for the older, funnier ones.

Germain, a self-described failed novelist married to loaded-for-bare gallery director Jeanne (Kristin Scott Thomas, not half-bad clad in Annie Hall-approved vest and tie, fretting over the possibility that she’ll be axed by her philistine employers), plays mentor to Claude (Ernst Umhauer), his prodigious pupil at the Lycée Gustave Flaubert. Claude’s obsessive mission, undertaken on the pretext of literary research, is to infiltrate and wreak havoc upon his stereotypically bourgeois friend Rapha’s stereotypically bourgeois family, triggering a morally wrought chain of events whereby fact and fiction become indistinguishable, or something like that. Potentially fertile themes and points of reference flit into view—the writer as con; the relation between despotism and Eros; Terence Stamp’s destabilizing performance in Teorema—only to vanish just as quickly. Ozon’s characters speak of literature’s fundamental inability to teach its audience anything; you wonder whether the director doesn’t feel similarly about his own medium.

Opens April 19