R (sexual content, strong language); 104 min.
The teacher is a veteran of the French school system, not burned out but resigned to the mediocrity of each new crop of high school sophomores. That first assignment Write about what you did last weekend confirms what he tells his gallery manager wife: This is the worst class Ive had in my life.
But one 16-year-old boy, Claude, takes it seriously. He describes a classmate he selected, a somewhat dim kid whose life hed love to have, whose house he longed to gain entry to. And he did, taking in details the sports-crazed dad beaten down by a job that includes petty humiliations from his boss and Chinese clients, and the singular scent of a middle-class woman, his classmates fetching blond mother.
French director Francois ( Potiche) Ozons latest is an adaptation of a play, a satire of talent presented to those who dont have it but recognize it, a spoof of mores and the writers craft, and a bildungsroman (coming-of-age tale) with hints of a creepy stalker-thriller about it.
Veteran character actor Fabrice Luchini ( Moliere, The Girl From Monaco) is Mr. Germain, the cynic stuck teaching the unwilling at Gustave Flaubert High School. Ernst Umhauer is Claude, the precocious boy whose literary bent intrigues his teacher but alarms the teachers wife (Kristin Scott Thomas).
Ozon has some fun with this material, playing around with versions of reality, inserting characters in scenes that Claude re-writes and adjusts.
Flaubert doesnt judge his characters, Germain lectures. But hes plainly titillated by the kids writing exercise. His job is threatened and his marriage turns testy as he grows more obsessed by how this chilling, sadistic tale will come out.
But for all its pleasures, as Germain nudges Claude toward that ideal ending that will make the reader say I never saw that coming and It could not have ended any other way at the same time, one only wishes this absorbing but melodramatic film had taken that advice.
In French with English subtitles.
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Roger Moore, McClatchy-Tribune News Service
In the House