PLOT: A student's fact-based fiction sparks the prurient interest of his writing teacher, whose encouragement tests the bounds of decency. Rated R (sexual situations)
BOTTOM LINE: Drolly sophisticated French confection, with a heart of darkness. (In French with English subtitles)
CAST: Fabrice Luchini, Ernst Umhauer, Kristin Scott Thomas
The teacher-student relationship has been the stuff of innumerable movies, but few are as slyly perverse as "In the House," which isn't really about teaching, or learning, but stories and art. An ennui-ridden French high-school teacher (the fabulously unctuous Fabrice Luchini) is titillated by an essay written one of his seemingly unremarkable 16-year-old students (Ernst Umhauer). It's a fairly routine account of visiting a friend's family for the weekend. But the young man, Claude, reveals a talent for the telling detail, the vaguely erotic aside; the teacher, Germain, is intrigued, even aroused. Under the guise of encouraging Claude's literary gifts, he spurs the young man to further explore his friend's family, all toward sating his own prurient interest.
Director Francois Ozon is a gifted risk taker, and as a result has been wildly uneven. But his best films ("Under the Sand," "Swimming Pool") dive boldly into bourgeois self-delusion and clueless presumptuousness, both of which are in generous supply in "In the House," which features a wonderfully haughty Kristin Scott Thomas as Germain's art-gallery-owner wife (a role she imbues with cloying privilege). The wonderful Luchini ("Potiche," "The Girl From Monaco") is less well known here than he deserves to be, but that's because American movies generally do not delve into the kind of perilous psychological territory in which both he and Ozon revel.
"House" eventually grows darker than perhaps it needs to be, and the relationship between Germain and Claude -- to say nothing of the relationship between Claude and the unfortunate family in his crosshairs -- becomes something monstrous. Still, Ozon is an artful provocateur and observer of human nature. What exactly constitutes that nature, and what crosses the line into the aberrant and twisted, is a question he's constantly asking.
RATING R (sexual situations)
Fabrice Luchini, Ernst Umhauer, Kristin Scott Thomas