In the House: Ozon's Intriguing Tale

“In the House” (“Dans la Maison”), the latest film of the young but prolific French writer-director François Ozon (“Under the Sand,” “”Swimming Pool,” “8 Women,” “Potiche”) is yet another deliciously twisted tale, a darkly humorous comedy of manners boasting a wonderful cast, headed by Fabrice Luchini, Kristin Scott-Thomas, Emmanuelle Seigner, and newcomer Ernst Umhauer.

It’s a mystery why Ozon, the gifted–some say enfant terrible–director of contemporary French cinema has not been more popular in the U.S. He’s certainly an original filmmaker, who possesses comedic wit, sharp observational powers, and good control over the production values, a combination of skills that has resulted in a series of technically elegant and visually graceful tales in which the casting and acting is often note-perfect

Unhauer plays the teenaged protagonist, Claude, all but 16, who insinuates himself into the house of a fellow high-school student, Rapha, (Bastien Ughetto). He then proceeds to write about the latter’s family in poignant essays that perversely blur the line between reality and fiction. Indeed, among other things, “Ïn the House” offers wry commentary on narrative storytelling, on our need and desire to manipulate, if not to control, the truth.

What begins as an assignment for his jaded and eccentric literature teacher, Germain (Fabrice Luchini), leads to many unanticipated consequences, some very funny. Thus, intrigued by this gifted and unusual student, Germain himself learns a lesson or two, when he rediscovers his taste for and joy of teaching.

Ozon the writer utilizes well the paradigm of “the outsider,” in which a strange individual invades into the public and private spaces of other people and in the process brings out the best and worst in himself and in those around him.

In this sophisticated film, marked by both elegance and eloquence, the boy’s intrusion sparks a series of uncontrollable events. His deliciously deviant act encourages all of us to become voyeuristic observers and speculate about our own darker needs for intrusion and control.

Ozon has always favored strong actresses in his films–he’s an openly gay director who loves the company of women, in the same way that Pedro Almodovar loves his Spanish female characters and actors.

The estimable Kristin Scott-Thomas plays Germain’s wife, Jeanne, a contemporary art gallery director, who, alongside her husband, avidly follows Claude’s semi-imaginary escapades, while Emmanuelle Seigner (who’s Roman Polanski’s wife) plays Rapha’s mom, Claude’s object of desire.

Though one of the most versatile and talent directors working in French cinema, Ozon is not yet known in the American movie scene, not even in the art film milieu. He is also one of the few foreign director who has made successful English-speaking films, such as “Swimming Pool.”

Over the past two decades, relying on his idiosyncratic (often gay) sensibility, Ozon has explored and subverted many genres in films including “Water Drops on Burning Rocks,” “Criminal Lovers,” “Under the Sand,” “Eight Women,” “Swimming Pool,” “5×2,” “Time To Leave,” “Hideaway,” and “Potiche.”

Space doesn’t permit me to revisit Ozon’s diversity of features and their rich gallery of women, but suffice is to say that his work has boasted the like of Charlotte Rampling, Catherine Deneuve, Jeanne Moreau, Isabelle Hupert, and even the veteran Danielle Darieux–all in top form.

“In the House” has played the film festival circuit in 2012, winning prestigious awards at Toronto (Fipresci), San Sebastian (Jury Award), and other festivals. He recently completed his latest film, “Jeune et Jolie,” which I look forward to.

Over the past two decades, the estimable Toronto Film festival has shown each one of Ozon’s films, at the time they were made. It’s time for a complete retrospective of the work of this naughty director.