In the House (Dans la maison) review: humour noir

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In the House Dans la maison yellow light

As a black comedy, this never quite catches fire, though there is some mild amusement to be found in its social satire.
I’m “biast” (pro): love Kristin Scott Thomas

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

The cinematic Suave Teenage Manipulator (Male) strikes again — this time out he’s Claude (Ernst Umhauer), 16 years old and faux sophisticated in his school uniform jacket and tie as he wraps his literature teacher, Germain (Fabrice Luchini), around his poison pen. Claude, you see, has insinuated himself into the home of his schoolmate Rapha Artole (Bastien Ughetto), on the pretense of tutoring the not-very-bright-lad in math, and now writes dramatic essays for Germain in which he skewers the tedious pretensions of this middle class family, from Rapha père’s (Denis Ménochet: Robin Hood) slavish devotion to a job he hates to mère Esther’s (Emmanuelle Seigner: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) obsession with interior decorating to both adults’ cooing over their doltish son. As Germain and his wife, Jeanne (Kristin Scott Thomas: Bel Ami), get hooked on reading Claude’s dispatches — all of which end with “to be continued” –we are increasingly unable to discern reality from Claude’s adolescent fantasies, some of which of course involve getting bored and beautiful Esther into compromising positions. I never felt as I were made complicit in Germain’s irresponsible egging on of Claude, because the story Claude is writing, whether it be real or imagined, isn’t anywhere near lascivious enough for me to be demanding more of it, and I do wonder if that’s what writer-director François Ozon was aiming for. (This is based on a play by Juan Mayorga, which surely contributes to the slight sense of the static about it.) More effective is the comedic condemnation of the bourgeoisie — spit the word out with Gallic disdain for best effect –as long as you don’t expect the sort of comedy that you actually ever laugh out loud at. Though you may snort derisively as Germain and Jeanne’s pretensions — she runs an art gallery full of terrible art; he’s a failed novelist — are held up for comparison to the Artoles’. What’s the French for “a contemptuous cocking of the eyebrow to indicate slight amusement”?

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