Director: Francois Ozon
Starring: Fabrice Luchini, Kristen Scott Thomas, Ernst Umhauer, Emmanuelle Seigner, Denis Menochet
Written by: Francois Ozon and (play) Juan Mayorga
Running Time: 105 mins
Release date: 29th March 2013
How do International cinema do it? How can they take a simple tale and turn it into a triumph, full of delicious characters, sparkling dialogue and the ability to drag you into the story from the start and refusing to let go till the credits are rolling and yet Hollywood fails so often? That is exactly what French director Francois Ozon’s electric psychological drama manages to do.
English teacher Germain isn’t a happy man. Given a class who spend their weekends watching TV, eating pizza and playing on their phones, lacking in any form of imagination doesn’t breathe hope in their future. Until he reads an essay by 16-year-old Claude. His weekend spent trying to befriend ordinary classmate Rapha Jr and infiltrate his family home fascinates Germain and his wife, art dealer Jeanne, who he reads the story to. Drawn into this story but always left with “To be continued’, Germain finds himself wanting to learn more and willing to privately tutor the boy in order to help him create a fully rounded story while trying to understand why he is wanting to become part of Rapha’s family unit. As the story gets more involved it starts to throw up all kinds of moral dilemmas.
Ozon’s film is a terrific mix of thrills, black comedy and morality play. His ability to draw you in to what seem on the outside an ordinary tale of a disgruntled teacher and a talented student is amazing. As the film travels along at a brisk pace, it blurs the lines of fact and fiction and throws up the questions, are these the fantasy of a teenage boy or have these things he writes about real? Told by showing the action as the characters read the tale, it could have been a dull experience but Ozon keeps you gripped with his playfulness and some fabulous performances from his very talented cast.
As the teacher Germain, Fabrice Luchini is delightful, managing to mix a bored and somewhat dull persona with that of an excited school boy who has made his first discovery. His actions are sometimes dubious but you cannot help but like him, even if you know things are going to come to pass by the end. Kristen Scott Thomas, who is becoming the go-to girl for French cinema, gives another pitch perfect performance as Germain’s long-suffering wife. The scenes between these two, as Germain shares the story, are both funny and incredible natural and it’s all credit to both for bringing that naturalness to the screen.
The revelation here is Ernst Umhauer as the young writer, Claude. Coming across all innocent as a boy wanting to learn more about a middle class family but secretly manipulating everyone who comes in contact with him, he is great. You spend your time wondering if he is lying or telling the truth and he does it all with quiet confidence. Umhauer is definitely a name to remember and a face you are bound to see in bigger things. I would say better but this is going to be a hard act to follow.
Ozon has always had the ability as a director to mix genres while still producing quality work. You only have to look at 8 Women to see how he mixed a murder mystery with a musical. Here the genres are all over the place and yet it doesn’t matter. You are there, taken on a journey that delivers constantly, sometimes shocks and have a very satisfactory conclusion.
Many people are put off by subtitles but trust me, you are missing out on so many cinematic treats and this is one of them. Mature, intelligent, witty, dark and gripping. It wouldn’t surprise me if this didn’t pop up in some of the best film lists for this year. I know it’s already in mine. I thought it was terrific.