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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 24, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 21
No place like home: François Ozon's In the House is a glorious achievement
Arts & Entertainment
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No place like home: François Ozon's In the House is a glorious achievement

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

IN THE HOUSE
Now showing

How do we construct the stories that make up our lives? What are the fictions driving us? Which truths do we dare embrace and which ones terrify us so completely we can't help but keep them at arm's length? What is fantasy? What is reality? How do we educate our young and what impact do we feel we are having on the intellectual and social development of our children?

These are only a few of the myriad of questions lurking at the dexterous, rapturously complex metaphorical heart of director François Ozon's spellbinding In the House, his ambitious yet carefully refined adaptation of Juan Mayorga's play as glorious an achievement as anything I could have hoped for. The man behind strong French sensations like Swimming Pool, 8 Women, and Under the Sand has outdone himself, this seemingly simple saga of a bored, disillusioned literary professor, Germain (Fabrice Luchini), whose passions are reignited by the appearance of a talented if strange new student, Claude Garcia (Ernst Umhauer), far more than its initially familiar parts.

A PRODIGY DISCOVERED
Things begin easily enough. To start off the new school year, Prof. Germain asks his students to write a paper chronicling their weekend. Most are jejune platitudes involving cell phones and dinner plans, leading the educator to believe his latest class of 16-year-olds might be his worst yet. But one essay catches his eye, young Garcia chronicling a weekend spent inside the middle-class abode of fellow classmate Rapha Artole, Jr. (Bastien Ughetto) and the observations he records therein ending his tale with an alluring promise, "To be continued."

Germain is both intrigued and horrified, reading portions of this saga to his art-dealer wife Jeanne (Kristin Scott Thomas) with a barely restrained glee she hasn't seen him display in ages. Soon, the professor is urging his student to keep digging, to keep immersing himself into the lives of Rapha and his parents, helping him spin images and stories out of these reality-based incursions that boldly blur the line between truth and fiction.

It gets more intense and crazy from there - a stolen math test becomes a key plot point - but never in ways that feel unnatural or too bizarre for their own good. Everything moves with a naturalism that's blissfully compelling, the dramatics taking place comedic and affecting both at the same time. I kept waiting for Claude to be proven to be some sort of teenage psycho, or Germain to lose all sense of himself and do something angrily aggressive. But nothing of the sort happens, and while the threat is always there the simple truth is both men hunger in many ways for the very same thing: to read/hear/write/create/craft a story that keeps them interested and builds to a satisfactory conclusion that those who one day read it will savor as much as they do.

THE PROCESS OF BECOMING
What Ozon is talking about, what I think he is trying to dissect, is just how much the world around us affects and influences the art that is created both by us (whether we even know we're doing it) and by those seen to be doing it professionally. The way these constructs interact with our daily lives, how we choose to interpret them, is how we slowly evolve and become the people we eventually transform into. It is this mirror that Germain looks into when he confronts the truth-based fiction Claude keeps handing him, the reverse image peering back at the student a construction he's not entirely sure he wants to age into.

Masterful performances abound, not just from Thomas (that almost goes without saying) but also from Ughetto, Emmanuelle Seigner, and Denis Ménochet, the latter two portraying Rapha's not-so-perfect-as-they-might-initially-appear parents. But the standouts are Luchini and Umhauer, the pair navigating complicated grey areas of human understanding and emotional conflict that are poignantly staggering. At the same time, as tough and as potentially unsettling the interpersonal minefields they navigate appear to be, both find levity in the chaos, humor inside the pain, achieving a bravura state of humane luminosity speaking volumes.

Ozon has made quite a few good movies and more than his fair share of great ones, his track record speaking for itself, but I'm not certain he's ever made one that's made me feel as instantly euphoric as this. The moment it ended I knew I'd just watched something I felt like I could treasure and hold dear for the rest of my life, that in some ways the director had manufactured a story engineered in some small part just for me. In the House is a staggering work of art that remembers the greatest stories start from the most blasé of scenarios, and that even when the ending to the tale borders on perfection the ultimate destination a masterpiece is headed for is for future generations to ascertain for themselves. In other words & to be continued.

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