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  In the House Schoolboy Report
Year: 2013
Director: François Ozon
Stars: Fabrice Luchini, Ernst Umhauer, Kristin Scott Thomas, Emmanuelle Seigner, Denis Ménochet, Bastien Ughetto, Jean-François Balmer, Yolande Moreau, Catherine Davenier, Vincent Schmitt, Jacques Bosc, Stéphanie Campion, Diana Stewart, Ronny Pong
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Mr Germain (Fabrice Luchini) is a French teacher who despairs of the lack of imagination and initiative in his students. He set his pupils an assignment to write an essay about what they did over the weekend, and most of the responses he received were a few lines of garbage, briefly mentioning such activities as watching television or being bored because their mobile phone was confiscated. Germain laments to his wife Jeanne (Kristin Scott Thomas) about the state of the future if that's the best the younger generation can come up with, but then he starts reading an essay by Claude (Ernst Umhauer)...

That essay details the boy's entrance into a middle class household whose lifestyle he has coveted, on the pretense of helping the son, Rapha Junior (Bastien Ughetto), with his maths homework. This is a lot more interesting to Germain, but is his captivation because he recognises a valid talent for writing in the sixteen-year-old, or is it because he is giving into an innate voyeuristic desire that we may all have to some degree or other? If it was the latter, then writer and director François Ozon had some news for you: spend too much time obsessing over the world of others and you neglect your own.

Not only that, but once you have introduced yourself into these walls by dint of your observation, the fact is you may not be able to stop, and that could very well be your undoing. As Claude goes further, penning reports on his activities in insinuating his way into the Rapha family to indulge his motives towards the mother, Esther (Emmanuelle Seigner), the more Germain wants to read the resulting essays, and to ensure this reportage is sustained he begins to manage the lives of others, telling himself he's doing this for purely academic reasons and to encourage the talents of Claude, but actually because he enjoys the illicit thrill of watching vicariously through his pupil's experience.

But there's a snag to all of this, because in the audience's role we are behaving just as Germain is, wanting more from Claude, which presumably makes Germain our surrogate in the story, except we are watching and judging his life just as he and his student are to the Artole clan. The snag being, we really only have Claude's word for it that this is all going on, so he may be an unreliable narrator, and more than that, Ozon may be the same, so what you were actually experiencing was a fiction which could just as easily be making a judgement on us as the characters were judging one another. Naturally, after a while you grow suspicious: exactly what is Claude up to?

According to his writings, he wants to get closer to Esther, so on one level this was paying tribute to Pier Paolo Pasolini, most obviously that old cultural touchstone Teorema, but Ozon, adapting a play by Juan Mayorga, was going further. This was not simply the tale of a young boy who enters a close-knit household and through his own mysterious desires turns it upside down - he doesn't even really do that, when you get down to it - but the story of a man who deluded himself into thinking he was acting intellectually when what he actually wanted was a good old fashioned gossip, and spying on an unknowing situation was the best way he could do so, kidding himself that he's not doing it in the first person so it must be acceptable. Of course, unless this is what you carry out in real life there's a difference between watching a film and eavesdropping on people, so you can tell yourself fiction is a more justifiable method of observing human behaviour, yet Ozon wondered aloud here, what's the difference? To which the answer would be, well, you started it, and this isn't a documentary. Music by Philippe Rombi.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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