London Film Festival, 2012-10-22
If you’ve seen 5X2, you’ll already know that François Ozon makes immensely clever yet highly entertaining films, and that there’s a point to the cleverness; he’s not just showing off. In the House, aka Dans La Maison, is Ozon to the bone, another very clever piece of work. This time, however, the point he’s making is far less immediately apparent.
With 5X2 we saw a love story played out in reverse chronology, the point being that, “forearmed” as we were with the knowledge that the relationship would crumble, we saw the couple in question’s first stirrings of love, courtship, marriage, honeymoon and so on through entirely different eyes.
Here Ozon plays a similar trick, taking a Cuckoo in the Nest plot and wrapping it in a disquisition on fiction and truth.
Fabrice Luchini plays a jaded teacher of French who is wading through the marking of “what I did at the weekend” essays one night when he comes across something submitted by one of his pupils. It’s a startling story of the relationship of Claude, one of his teenage charges, and how he courted Rapha, a fellow pupil, so he could gain access to the boy’s house, where he seems to have been leering after the kid’s mother (played by Emmanuelle Seigner). Unsettled, the teacher shows his wife (Kristin Scott Thomas). She is as intrigued as he, but also appalled. Next day the teacher upbraids the boy for his stalking, who instead of backing down hands him the next instalment of the story, which ends, like the first one, with “A suivre…” (to be continued).
The teacher is, against his better judgment, completely hooked, and becomes not just an avid follower of the boy’s increasingly lurid exploits (is he going to seduce the mother? the son? surely not the father?), not just his literary mentor, but also, bit by bit, an agent provocateur. Ozon symbolises this brilliantly, by having Luchini suddenly pop up inside the boy’s retelling of his story to offer pointers.
We’ve got a double articulation here. On the one hand a Damien tale of a monster inside a humdrum middle class family’s life. On the other we have the teacher’s reactions to that story, and how his reactions influence the development of the boy’s story, and how the boy’s story starts to take over the teacher’s own life. Fact and fiction become hopelessly intertwined, with the only seeming certainty being that, as is said several times, “the world needs stories”.
There is a student essay in here for someone, probably someone with an interest in structuralism or deconstruction (both of which more or less take the view that nothing is certain or natural and that everything is made up – it’s all a big story).
For those of a more pragmatic, empirical nature, this is also a highly entertaining bit of farce, with Luchini perfectly cast – all hangdog one second, raised eyebrow the next – as the teacher in beyond the elbow. Ernst Umhauer plays the teenager, cleverer by far than his teacher, an inspired bit of casting – creepy, smooth skinned, attractive, with a hint of a smile that could be amusement or malice. Bisexual? Maybe. Unsettling is the intention of Ozon, I suspect, and Umhauer delivers it.
Everyone else, including Scott Thomas and Emmanuelle Seigner, is a footnote. Apart, that is, from the father of the dolt, also called Rapha, played as a man so charged up with manly testosterone by Denis Ménochet, as so “natural” in his actions and reactions (Pizza? Yay! Football? Yowzer!) that he stands in complete contradiction to all this fey “everything is fictional” posturing that everyone else is indulging in, or being dragged into. And that, surely, is the point of Ozon’s film – there is fiction, there is fact and if we lose the distinction, we’re lost. French philosophers of the post 1968 tradition take note.
© Steve Morrissey 2012