Wednesday, April 24, 2013

'In The House' is Just More of the Same


I few years ago, back in my hometown of Lima, Peru, I saw a production of Juan Mayorga's El chico de la última fila (The Boy in the Last Row). To be frank, I didn't care much for the play and haven't thought much about it since. Last week, right as it premiered in a few New York screens, I learned that french director François Ozon had made a movie adaptation of the play titled In the House. Although I've only seen three of Ozon's movies, I've liked them (especially 8 Women) and have grown to look at him as one of the most interesting contemporary European auteurs. It is with great disillusion that I have to say that just as when I saw the original play, I didn't care much for In the House. 

Here's the plot: Germain (Fabrice Luchini) is a high school french teacher, who becomes interested in a pupil named Claude (Ernst Umhauer), whose writing assignments stand out amongst his classmate's mediocrity. Claude writes about his visits to the house of one of his classmates, Rapha Artole (Bastien Ughetto). Claude, who doesn't have much money and a sick father,  has a voyeuristic fascination with the Artoles' lifestyle, particularly with Esther (Emmanuelle Seigner), Rapha's mother. About Esther, he writes stuff amongst the lines of "I can distinguish her smell, characteristic of the middle class woman". Germain's wife, Jeanne (Kristin Scott Thomas), warns him about this creepy kid, but Germain can't help but encourage him to keep on writing.

For a moment, especially during the movie's second third, it seems like we're in for a meta-filmic experience, in which Germain's desire to keep the kid writing becomes an addiction and his constant critiques of the work start to get ridiculous and full of contradictions. For a moment there I thought Ozon was trying to turn the play into a commentary about today's consumption of media and the critical eye surrounding art and culture. But Ozon's adaptation is very close to Mayorga's play and in the third act turns into dull territory. I don't quite understand what some people like so much about this movie. The story, which is interesting at first, ends up in the exact same places you would imagine. For a long time we only see Claude interactions with the Artoles through his writing, lifting the question of what is and isn't real in his narrative. This puts Ozon's most melodramatic and thrilling directorial impulses in focus. However, by the end, the movie betrays this narrative and reveals a dull, expected resolution.

There are some fine performances in the movie. I especially liked Luchini's on-spot portrayal of the middle-aged intelectual and Denys Menochet, who finds surprising amount of humor and poignancy as Rapha's father. There are also some very funny moments and some truly inspired directorial choices in the middle part of the movie, but the end result is just disappointing.

Score: 4/10

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