Risky Game of Seduction in
Ozon’s Best Film Yet
Left to right: Fabrice Luchini, Emmanuelle Seigner and Ernst Umhauer
Dans la Maison (In the House), prolific filmmaker François Ozon’s latest offering, may well be his most accomplished movie to date. Combining the erotic danger of Pasolini’s Teorema and the intricate play on fiction and reality of an Almodóvar film, Ozon focuses on Germain, a high-school teacher of French literature, played by veteran actor Fabrice Luchini. After giving his distinctly mediocre class of boys an assignment to write about their weekend, Germain discovers that one of his pupils, Claude (Ernst Umhauer), displays precocious writing talent in his account of infiltrating the home of one of his school friends.
Claude, who is from a less privileged family than his friend, appears to be satirizing the banality of a bourgeois household even while intent on seducing his friend’s mother, played with understated languor by Emmanuelle Seigner.
As Claude continues to write about his visits to the house, with Germain’s encouragement, it becomes unclear to what extent the tales recounted come from the boy’s imagination or from reality. Germain’s motives are similarly uncertain. As he reads out his pupil’s successive chapters to his wife, Jeanne (another beautifully realized role by Kristin Scott Thomas), an unsuccessful art gallery director who also becomes immersed in the young Claude’s evolving story, we wonder whether he is simply encouraging the boy’s literary talents, having failed himself as a fiction writer, or whether his fascination with this erotic tale is voyeuristic. And, is his interest in Claude essentially paternal (he and Jeanne have no children) or something more troubling? Ozon veers eloquently between pastiche and realism, mirroring the fiction/reality dichotomy of Claude’s writing.
Umhauer’s performance as the dangerously seductive Claude is perfectly nuanced; he succeeds in being neither overly demonic nor guilelessly innocent. The one short scene in which we see his own home is both simple and moving.
Luchini predictably draws much comedy from his part, while largely avoiding the tics and mannerisms that sometimes mar his film roles.
Ozon’s greatest strength as a director is also his greatest weakness: chameleon-like, he explores a wide range of styles and genres, but many of his movies lack a recognizable character, unlike the very distinctive films of Almodóvar, for example. If Ozon remains on such good form, we can look forward to much more from him in the future.
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