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Friday, 7 February 2014

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - In The House

Directed by: Francois Ozon

Produced by: Eric Altmeyer
Nicolas Altmeyer
Claudie Ossard

Screenplay by: Francois Ozon

Based on: The Boy In The Last Row by Juan Mayorga

Starring: Fabrice Luchini
Ernst Umhauer
Kristin Scott Thomas
Bastien Ughetto
Emmanuelle Seigner
Denis Menochet

Music by: Philippe Rombi

Cinematography by: Jerome Almeras

Editing by: Laure Gardette

Studio: Mandarin Cinema

Distributed by: Mars Distribution (France)
Cohen Media Group (United States)
Alliance Films (United Kingdom)

Release date(s): October 10, 2012 (France)
March 29, 2013 (United Kingdom)
April 19, 2013 (United States)

Country: France

Language: French

Production budget: €9.21 million

Box-office revenue: $11, 879, 046

Philip Seymour Hoffman 1967-2014

After my review for 12 Years A Slave (which, in case you don't know, I was completed blown over by), it's nevertheless back to the 'ole 'business as' M.O. for the next week to finish out the reviews for the year. Not only have I seen the film which is the subject of this review, I have seen Danny Boyle's Trance and Ruben Fleischer's Gangster Squad, and plan to see Stoker, The Wolf Of Wall Street and The Wolverine (for the purposes of my unhealthy fawning over the talents of Hugh Jackman). So, for all the latest and greatest in the movies, keep your eyes posted!

On another but none the less relevant note, I would like to express my condolences to the family of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who passed away over the weekend there. It's easy to say with hindsight (and with rhetoric that may seem to some gross), but despite his untimely death, their circumstances will not overlook the fact that he was one of the most talented and engaging actors of his or any generation. As such, he is the due dedicatee of this review, and his presence will be sorely missed.

Today's movie up for review is In The House, which first came out in France in 2012 but in the United Kingdom in 2013, and is directed by Francois Ozon, who has since made another film, Jeune And Jolie, that played at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival and which I imagine I'll see at some point in the near future. Ozon is best know on these shores for directing films such as Swimming Pool and Potiche, displaying a penchant for exploring sexuality with an ear for good wit and sharp dialogue. Adapted from the play The Boy In The Last Row by Juan Mayorga, In The House follows Germain Germain (Fabrice Luchini), an English Literature teacher who develops an interest in the work of his student Claude Garcia (Ernst Umhauer), who is in turn basing his work on his own experiences as he is developing a friendship with a fellow student Rapha Artole (Bastien Ughetto) and an infatuation with his mother Esther (Emmanuelle Seigner). Got it? Good!

Starting with the good regarding In The House, I do think that Ozon is an intelligent filmmaker who does a lot to not only make his films entertaining and engaging but also to give the audience a good bit of material to tickle their brains. Ozon's script is full of his trademark skill for dialogue, characters having conversations about art and literature and what have you. I'm sure some people will automatically think 'smarmy French movie with people talking about literature,' but I was able to connect with this, the conversational nature of the piece and the ways that characters address one another shows that their words are window dressing for what we can see really going on under the surface: it's all a bit of a jest, these people seemingly constantly engaged in the act of seduction. Furthermore, the interplay between each of them and their respective motivations and how they all tie into each other is intrinsically intelligent: What's their ulterior motive? When are they going to be honest with each other? Just who are these people really? These are the kind of questions the movie throws up. Mixing this stimulation with a twisted sort of eroticism and we get not only another notch on Ozon's belt in successfully exploring sexuality, but also a dark but highly humorous black comedy. These characters are all failures in their own way, and their attempt to fill a certain void in their lives, often in a sexual manner, leads for some strange entanglements with so much implicated but left unsaid. As such, when Kristen Scott Thomas' Jeanne blurts out to husband Germain that she thinks he's in love with his pupil so nonchalantly, it's a shocking, absurd but deliriously funny moment. Speaking of actors, this is a solidly cast and well-acted movie. In the lead role of Germain Germain (that's not a typo by the way!), Fabrice Luchini crafts his teacher with a deftly attuned ability towards his timing. Germain is awkward and his moments, but he's not full of tics and a babbling idiot: in fact, he's well-spoken, at times rather charming and carries him with a real sense of class. However, Luchini comes close to Woody Allen self-cypher that the writer-director played as a version of himself for so many years, and Germain has a number of paranoias and neuroses, but as I mentioned, it is played with a great sense of timing so as to not to go so far as parody. Also coming across strong is Ernest Umhauer, who pitches his Claude Garcia somewhere between Terence Stamp in Teorema and a lost little boy looking for the relationship with his mother that he never had. As mentioned, he has moments where he admits his vulnerability, but Garcia plays the part with such confidence and wisdom that there is an element of danger somewhere in there, almost a level of psychopathy. Finally on the acting front, although in a lesser role screen-time wise than Luchini or Umhauer, Emmanuelle Seigner is terrific in the part of Esther Artole. Claude falls in love with the attractive "singular scent of a middle-class woman," his idealistic interpretation of her as a bored housewife, which Seigner plays well, and as Garcia's relationship with her evolves and we see more of her as a character, Seigner gives Esther a lot of depth and integrity behind what's driving her as a person. Also, she depicts the character as mentally almost the same age as her young would-be seducer, and how Esther grows in this way is one of the more fascinating aspects of the film and how it affects Claude. Furthermore, Seigner never forgets that this is, after all, an interpretation; we never see Esther outside of the perspective of Claude, and that is key to our understanding of the character. Finally, although the clearer 'stylistic' traits the film has come from the script and the actors, I also feel that this a well-edited picture. Though minimalistic in it's use, the editing creates a subtle blurring of the lines between reality (at least within the film's diegesis) and fiction. Also, the fact that the character's seem to work in and out of each other's 'reality' and fiction(s), through the means of things like Claude's narration of his story unfolding before us being interrupted by Germain telling him not to write so melodramatically and what have you creates an atmosphere that goes as far as to question the very nature of reality itself. The editing also sticks to the old trick, simple but effective, of the use of Kuleshovian montage technique to create a confusion to the atmosphere of the film.

Now, as you've gathered I rather liked In The House, but I would be amiss in saying that the movie doesn't have problems. The main issue is something subjective (and at risk of sounding contradictory), in that while I do think it is an intelligent movie, in the third act I think it gets a bit too clever for itself. This results in a resolution that ends up like a twisted variation of the melodrama that I feel the movie is at it's best when shying away from the genre. Implication and suggestion are taken a bit too literally, removing the tension that keeps the movie on a fine line between drama and comedy, and there are a few plot points too many. With so many entanglements and threads, you're bound to trip at least once, and I think this does it on numerous occasions. Also, I feel that the idea of this story being used as some kind of metaphor or satire on contemporary society is stretched a bit too far. It would have been just fine if you had kept it 'In The House' and we would have got all this, but the way the plot moves to its climax, with a final shot that is a none too subtle equivalent of rubber stamping the point, unfortunately lacks the tact and tension that got us so far in the first place. I know, it sounds like I'm making excuses to criticise the movie, but this is one of those ones were you have to address it outside of the 'actors-screenplay-tech specs-director' format(s) that I usually take in reviewing a movie.

Don't get me wrong, I have some reservations about the movie getting too clever for itself, resulting in it occasionally tripping up over it's many entanglements and losing the subtlety and dramatic tension that kept the thing going in the first place, but In The House is still a fine bit of work. Ozon's quite clearly an intelligent filmmaker, as we can see from the layers of complexity with which the plot and his characters are injected, and the dialogue is up there with the wit and conversation tone of the best of Pedro Almodovar. Also, performance wise Fabrice Luchini channels a strange riff on Woody Allen, Ernst Umhauer has a strangely confident charm and Emmanuelle Seigner succeeds in playing both a real person and an interpreted caricature simultaneously. The movie also features some fine editing, which works in a subtle and seemingly simplistic manner, but in fact displays a strong subversion of classic Kulehsovian montage techniques and narrative traits, so as to create blurred lines between fiction and 'reality' (this is a movie after all!). 

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.1/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Just fine (I didn't have to work Hardwell last night at the Odyssey, I got a different kind of excess in The Wolf Of Wall Street)

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