Thursday, January 16, 2014

In the House (2012): Implicating the Consumer

In the House (2012)
dir: Francois Ozon

Implicating the consumer in the exploits on screen is nothing new. Michael Haneke did it with Funny Games. Oliver Stone did it in Natural Born Killers. Paddy Chyevsky was doing it a bit in NetworkThe Truman Show and EdTV both did it to certain degrees. Even Joss Whedon got in the game in 2012's masterful The Cabin in the Woods.

Even making the consumer a character in the show is nothing new, as Statler and Waldorf represented the audience and critic in The Muppet Show. In this light, there is little new in Francois Ozon's In the House, based on the Spanish play The Boy in the Last Row. Ozon manipulates the play to indict his audience of soap opera melodrama, as well as the writer of the melodrama.

In the House tells the story of a teenage student, Claude, who claims to be poor and without a mother figure. Claude writes a serial for his English teacher, Germain, about Claude infiltrating the middle-class home of a fellow student under the auspices of helping the fellow student with his math homework. While infiltrating, Claude makes observations on the family, and even falls in love with the mother of the house.

However, Ozon manipulates the movie to have it be told through the eyes of Germain, who reads the story and gets caught up in the serial to the point of stealing math tests for the student in order for him to seem successful in his tutoring and he can continue through the house. Really, if not for Germain as the audience, the story would not be written, and the infiltration might not be what it is.

The other issues that Ozon ostensibly raises are class issues, emotional issues between parents and children, and "what is art?" In fact, "what is art?" is given as much credence as implicating the audience as Mrs. Germain runs an unsuccessful art gallery that shows po-mo art such as clocks that have 13 numbers on it, or blow up dolls with faces of dictators pasted on.

In the House feels exactly like Ozon is answering his critics who may say he's just a dealer of dreaded soapy melodrama which could either be ironically condescending, perverse, absurdist, or purely observational. It's American brethren is Storytelling, the 2001 movie by Todd Solondz. But, instead of just having the critic/audience be a cameo by Franka Potente, Ozon makes the whole movie through the eyes of the critic/audience.

If not for the critic and audience, the story would not happen. In fact, the critic may even shape the story to a point. By critiquing the storyteller, the next chapter is thus influenced by the critic, even as it destroys the critic. Because the critic is a talentless hack who only knows how to critique, not how to create.

Ozon maintains his usual deft hand of being slyly ironic and sneakily witty in order to make one of his most compelling and subtle social satires in years. It's more developed and creative than Sitcom, and shares more of a tonality with Swimming Pool, where fiction and reality clashed in a schizophrenic murder mystery of fun and eroticism. In the House is actually his most successful film since Swimming Pool, and it feels more self-assured than Ozon has felt in years.

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