Literary prodigy writes rings around his prof in the spry latest from arty teaser François Ozon.
Halfway through François Ozon’s flippant metafarce In The House, Kristin Scott Thomas’ Jeanne, a sultry, silver-tongued art dealer and wife to ratty, motormouthed literature prof Germain (the great Fabrice Luchini), is seen wearing Annie Hall’s infamous beatnik garb: puffy white shirt, baggy pants and beat-up waistcoat combo.
It’s a jokey reference allying the film to the chattering-class whimsy of Woody Allen. Except this film isn’t like Annie Hall. It has more in common with Allen’s later, more cynical Deconstructing Harry, especially in its clever clever dismantling of the writing process and the way in which it details the hazards of using real people as the basis for fictional subjects.
It all starts so promisingly, as the naturally talented student Claude (Ernst Umhauer) submits a creative writing assignment which tickles Germain. It offers a caustically snide depiction of a suburban middle-class family which Claude has apparently infiltrated with the help of slack-jawed schoolmate Rapha (Bastien Ughetto). Pondering then swiftly dismissing the questionable morals of this endeavour, Germain decides to nurture Claude’s creative instincts and mould him in his (failed) wordsmith image.
Though sprightly and urbane, In The House nonetheless indulges in the misanthropic, classbaiting excesses of Ozon’s early work, but does so from behind the barricades of its concentric literary dimensions. By the time the worlds of fiction and reality begin to collide and the inevitable Frankenstein’s Monster angle comes into play, the film spirals out of control and squirms its way to a trite and unsatisfactory conclusion. As a technical exercise, there’s a certain level of fun to be had, and the theatrical, larger-than-life performances (particularly Luchini’s) suggest it’s a film whose pretensions are perhaps not to be taken at face value.
In The House talks in hip, erudite tones but in fact appears to have little of value to say. It succeeds as empty, glossy entertainment fuelled by a veritable glitter-gun of bons mots, but for Ozon it’s something of a step back after his luminescent femme satire Potiche.
The highly variable François Ozon left us on a high with Potiche.
The ratcheting, farcical flights of fancy keep you locked in.
Acrobatic wordplay only hides the vapidity so much.