The Martha’s Vineyard Film Center has scheduled a new French comedy thriller, “In the House,” by satirist Francois Ozon for this weekend. This stylish and offbeat movie will play in addition to two documentaries on Tibetan Buddhism that will screen Friday, May 17, as part of the Buddha Birthday Bash.
Opening at a French high school, “In the House” tracks the budding literary career of a 16-year-old student named Claude (Ernst Umhauer). Claude, who was deserted by his mother, is obsessed by what he sees as the “perfect” family of one of his classmates, Raphy Artole (Bastien Ughetto). On the pretext of tutoring Raphy in math, Claude turns an assignment, “How I Spent My Weekend,” into a page-turning account of how he’s been spying on the Artole family and inveigled himself into their home.
Claude’s snobbish and dyspeptic French teacher, Germain Germain (Fabrice Luchini), himself a failed writer, pounces on his student as the only one in his class with talent. Germain brings home Claude’s serial essays, so he and his gallery-running wife, Jeanne (a delightfully clueless Kristin Scott Thomas) can rapaciously follow the story of his relationship with the Artoles.
Soon Germain is second-guessing how Claude should write the story, providing more tutoring than is appropriate or necessary. The movie hops back and forth between Germain’s and Jeanne’s readings of Claude’s page-turner installments, scenes in Jeanne’s art gallery with its comical, sometimes obscene installations, and visits to the Artole house.
Germain’s teaching techniques backfire in unexpected ways when he assigns his class to write an essay about their best friend and humiliates Raphy when he makes him read his paean to Claude in front of the class. Jeanne compounds her husband’s problems when she invites the Artoles to an opening at her gallery.
“In the House” won the International Critics’ Award at the Toronto Film Festival and was nominated for six Césars (“Amour” won). Considered an important member of the new French New Wave, Francois Ozon is known for his sophisticated technique and sharply satirical wit. As “In the House” unfolds, the viewer may find it harder and harder to figure out how much of Claude’s storytelling is real and how much imagined. Sometimes Claude appears in scenes at the Artole’s house unexpectedly. At other times Germain is included, even though it’s clear he couldn’t possibly be there.
Tongue-in-cheek literary allusions abound. Germain Germain’s duplicate first and last name could have stepped out of Nabokov’s “Lolita.” The high school where Germain teaches is called Lycée Gustave Flaubert. After Claude’s and Germain’s misadventures start to unravel, “In the House” ends up with a jokey homage to Hitchcock’s “Rear Window.”
The story of Claude’s dual relationship with his teacher and his friend Raphy’s family will most likely hook the viewer, but Mr. Ozon doesn’t seem to know how to tie up the loose ends in his tale of misguided literary talent and lack thereof. He ends “In the House” on a very dark note, and he might well have been better off calling it “To Be Continued.”
“In the House,” Saturday, May 18, and Sunday, May 19, 7:30 pm, M.V. Film Center, Vineyard Haven. $10; $7 for M.V. Film Society members. For information on screenings of other films playing at the Film Center, visit mvfilmsociety.com.