Monday, April 15, 2013

IN THE HOUSE: Education, creation & family inhabit Ozon's finest and most mature work

All right: I admit it. I have a special love for films that tackle the creative process: How creativity happens and art -- or, unfortunately, sometimes fart -- comes into being. I also (usually) love the films of François Ozon, and this one, I'll wager, is his best yet. His masterpiece. IN THE HOUSE is the finest movie of any kind I've seen so far this year (or last, actually). I cannot recommend it more ferociously.

Based on the play (unseen by me), The Guy in the Last Row, from Spanish writer Juan Mayorga, the material would seem to have everything we've come to expect from M. Ozon (the filmmaker is shown at right) -- and more.

What's new here is, at the very heart of things, a kindness and empathy for every character that is rare for movies and even more so in the work of this particular filmmaker. At this point in time, Ozon has gone from the enfant terrible of his early years to a man fully in command of his art who wants to explore how that art comes into being, together with the joy it brings and, yes, the toll it takes.

What makes the movie especially wonderful is that it isn't simply about something (which is already more than many movies can manage). It's about just about everything: life and art and why things happen and what they mean and how they matter. It's playful. It's dead serious (but always fun). It's romantic, sexy, naughty, nasty and finally life-affirming without out a trace of feel-good drivel.

By the end of this strange and joyful lamentation, you'll have been jerked around so brilliantly and so often (but without ever losing your way through this mine-field of desire and need) that you'll breathe, rather than a sigh of relief, one of understanding and gratitude. Unless, of course, you don't care much about art and creativity, reality and fiction -- in which case, go see G.I. Joe.

The plot begins with a tired teacher in high school (the great actor/comedian Fabrice Luchini, above, right), his wife (Kristin Scott Thomas, above, left) who runs an art gallery, and his most talented student Claude (Ernst Unhauer, below) whose "creative writing" comes from a rather tricky place: the goings-on in the lives of the family of a classmate. Compared to that of any of the other students, Claude's writing is good. Very good. But should it be encouraged?

Further, what are the motivations here, from both the young writer and his adult teacher? We enter the teacher's life and that of his wife, but the student/writer's not so much -- except in how he interacts with that family, a wonderful group made up of mom (the still gorgeous and ever more alluring and maturing Emmanuelle Seigner, (shown on couch, below, center) dad (a wonderfully likable lunk played by Denis Ménochet, on couch at left) and their son Rafa, the classmate of Claude (Bastien Ughetto, at right on the couch, below).

This plot spins in different directions, depending upon Claude's whim/desires and the directions given by his teacher. But then the teacher becomes involved in a way that changes everything, and the tale begins to whirl, it seems, out of anyone's control.

Along the way, you may be reminded of everything from Pirandello to the play/film Five Finger Exercise to the more recent Adaptation. But the result is purely Ozon's -- along with playwright Mayorga's -- own. Storytelling has seldom seemed so full of possibi-lity, or of traps, nor humanity so poignant, vulnerable and alive.

After viewing this marvel, one may wonder how the actors managed to account for their motivations, so many and varied are these by the time the film has wrapped. Yet each performance is so full and real at every moment along the way, that this cast deserves some sort of ensemble award for versatility and pliability.

By the final scene, for me one of the most beautiful in movie memory, both the characters on-screen and us in the audience seem to float suspended in a near-miraculous state of grace. This is movie magic of the highest order. I cannot wait to see the film again.

In the House, from Cohen Media Group and running 105 minutes, opens this Friday, April 19, in New York City at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema and the Lincoln Plaza Cinema and in Los Angeles at The Landmark. The movie will be playing elsewhere around the county, so come Friday, go to your favorite online ticket purveyor and plug in your zip code to find out where it'll screen near you. Update March 2014: this movie is now available via Netflix streaming, so grab it!

All the photos above are from the film itself, 
except that of M. Ozon, which is by Jim Spellman 
and comes courtesy of

No comments: