F.I.L.M. of the Week (March 5, 2015)

5 03 2015

In the HouseFrançois Ozon made a big splash in 2003 with his film “Swimming Pool,” which follows the exploits of a novelist pulling generously from real life to write her next book.  A decade later, he circles back to the same themes with his adaptation of “In the House.”  It hardly feels like a rerun, however.

Ozon, here, concerns himself with the ethical position of the observer watching actuality being warped into literary fantasy.  This thrilling, dramatic work earns my nod for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week” because of the way it raises fascinating questions about the challenges and conundrums faced by all who write fictional tales.  While Ozon stops short of making the voyeuristic audience feel that moral weight, “In the House” nonetheless excites and enchants with its intellectual interrogations.

The film plays out as a serialized drama refracted through the experience of a teenage boy, the inquisitive student Claude (Ernest Umhauer).  His incisive description of the inner workings and desires of the real, banal middle-class home belonging to his socially awkward classmate Rapha Artole proves tantalizing to Claude’s teacher, washed-up writer Germain Germain (Fabrice Luchini).  Germain wants to develop and hone his pupil’s writing skills, so he begins to tutor him privately in order to discuss his compositions.

But Germain also pushes him to take surprising actions in his dealings with the Artoles to make Claude’s writing more daring in tone and content.  Thus, the always teetering fulcrum between art reflecting life and life reflecting art begins to fluctuate so rapidly that any distinction between the directionality become inpossible to discern.  Germain essentially turns Claude into a narrative Rumpelstiltskin, exploiting the beauty of the mundane for textual gold and personal gain.

“In the House” excellently illuminates the problems of narrativizing life as it plays out as well as how the writing of life ex post facto clouds and ruins the living of it.  Ozon’s smart plotting and direction makes these quandaries not only intriguing to mull over but also truly riveting to watch in action.





REVIEW: Venus in Fur

20 06 2014

Venus in FurCannes Film Festival – Official Competition, 2013

We’re now witnessing the late films of Roman Polanski, whether we like it or not.  The director gave us one of the all-time great horror films (“Rosemary’s Baby“), neo-noirs (“Chinatown”), and Holocaust films (“The Pianist”).  Yet now, he seems content to draw his legacy to a close with a sort of artistic retreat into filmed theater.

His latest film, “Venus in Fur,” has more than a few similarities with Polanski’s previous directorial effort, 2011’s meekly received “Carnage.”  They are both adaptations of a stage play with a small set of characters locked in a continuous scene restricted to a single space.  And Polanski, who proved to be quite the consummate visual filmmaker in decades past, seems content to just yell “action!” and have the actors do their work.

He controls the chaos a lot better in “Venus in Fur,” although that could be due in part to the cast of only two – one of which is his wife, Emmanuelle Seigner, who he’s presumably on the same wavelength with to begin.  She plays Vanda, an aging actress who invites herself to audition for the director, Thomas (Mathieu Amalric).  He’s adapting the novel “Venus in Furs,” which is notable for introducing the phrase sadomasochism into the world brain.

Over the course of an hour and a half, Vanda and Thomas play a game of verbal chess over sexual politics and gender identity.  They arrive at more than a few interesting conclusions as their power dynamics and roles begin to shift.  Seigner and Amalric’s acting keeps “Venus in Fur” interesting whenever the location starts to feel boring or the whole enterprise just feels a little bit stalled.

“Venus in Fur” feels like many things, none of which is a Polanski film.  Although I have to give credit to a director who, at 80, is making us reconsider what exactly his movies are.  B-2stars