François Ozon directs Fabrice Luchini in “In the House.” | COHEN MEDIA GROUP
BY GARY M. KRAMER | Out French writer and director François Ozon’s diverting new film “In the House” alternates between two stories. One has Germain (Fabrice Luchini), a teacher, mentoring Claude (Ernst Umhauer), a student in his literature class. The other features Claude’s writing, which depicts his experiences in the home of his classmate Rapha (Bastien Ughetto). Claude’s’ stories intrigue and excite Germain, and “In the House” depicts how Germain crosses moral and ethical lines to keep Claude’s addicting tales coming. Ozon artfully plays with ideas of truth and trust, fiction and morality to create a seductive, spellbinding comedic drama about desire.
Truth, fiction, morality, desire, sexuality remain at top of François Ozon’s concerns
The charming filmmaker recently met with Gay City News to talk about how he crafted “In the House.”
GARY M. KRAMER: There is a line in your film, “People are nothing without stories.” Do you believe this to be true?
FRANÇOIS OZON: Yes! I totally agree with that. I am nothing without film, without fiction. I need to escape — like the character of Germain — from reality. My childhood was not horrible, but you are always frustrated by your reality. Life in cinema is better than life in reality. That may be my problem. I live too much in fiction.
GMK: Have you ever read a serial or watched a soap opera where you couldn’t wait for the next installment?
FO: Yes, of course! When I was young, “Dallas” was so popular. For me, as a young boy, it was very subversive. The character of Sue Ellen was always drunk. I was too young to watch it. It was forbidden. So when my parents were not there, I was watching “Dallas,” wanting to know what the terrible Texas family was going to do. It was very exciting, and you were always waiting for the next episode “to be continued…”
Ernst Umhauer and Bastien Ughetto in Ozon’s “In the House.” | COHEN MEDIA GROUP
GMK: The narrative in “In the House” is manipulative — the narrator is possibly unreliable. How do you approach this material as a storyteller?
FO: It was important to involve the audience in the process of creation — to share with you how it is to write a story. What are the different options? How it can be sometimes difficult — you don’t know exactly where to go or what to do with this character. At the same time, it’s very exciting — there is a real challenge to tell the story. The idea was to see the story happening during the film and to share that.
GMK: You’ve addressed perfect families previously in your film “Sitcom,” and now again here. What is your sense of the perfect family?
FO: [Laughs.] As I child, I dreamt of the perfect family in the perfect house in a beautiful suburb. Actually, I lived in Paris in an old building and my dream was to live like a suburban American — like Rapha’s family. My family was not dysfunctional, but it was not perfect.
GMK: Another theme in your film is that art and literature teach us how to awaken our senses to beauty. Can you discuss this?
FO: I think art helps you understand life. For me, discovering a movie helps me understand my relationships. There are people who can cry in a movie, but are unable to cry in life.
GMK: Who was influential in your education?
FO: I didn’t have such a strong relationship like Germain and Claude in the film, but discovering Fassbinder — I never met him; he died when I was young — I had the feeling like he was talking to me, you know? I loved very stylish movies by Douglas Sirk and Max Ophuls, and at the same time I liked realistic movies, and I didn’t know how to have these two visions in the same movie. When I discovered Fassbinder’s movies, I thought the key is there.
GMK: You create desire, you express desire, and your “In the House” shows how people act on desire and with sexuality…
FO: Sexuality is life. [Laughs.] Sexuality is very important and very often my films are about people looking for their identity. To find your identity you have to go through your sexuality. That’s why sex is so important in my movies. As a director, I love to film sex scenes. It’s very exciting!
GMK: You objectify all of the characters — male and female — in the film. What prompts you to eroticize these characters?
FO: I think the cinema is the best place to have desire. It’s in the dark, you’re in front of a screen, and you feel alone, even if you have someone beside you. There is something about cinema and fantasy, obsession and sexuality, and we want to see passion in the actors in desire. You want to touch the bodies of the actors and actresses.
GMK: Who do you desire?
FO: I desire all my actors — men and women. It doesn’t mean I have sex with everybody! [Laughs.] Sometimes I would like to! There are many actors I like. In my next movie, you will see a very sexy actor, but I can’t say anything.
GMK: You tease! There is a morality at play in the film as Claude prompts Germain to cross ethical lines, which only increases his desire for more storytelling. Do you think people can’t control their desires?
FO: No! We need desire for life. If you don’t have desire, you don’t want to wake up in the morning, you don’t want to do anything. If you don’t have desire, you are depressed. Desire can go in different places — you can have desire in your work, your sexuality, your relationship, with your friends. But without desire, life isn’t worthwhile.
GMK: The film is also about being seduced…
FO: I love to be seduced! That means you have desire, you feel alive. I love to seduce my audience. I love to seduce people, too, but the problem when you become a director, or famous, you never know if you’re being seduced because of yourself or because of what you represent. That’s why I like to meet people who don’t know my movies. They are very honest. When they know me, they think they know me because they’ve seen my movies. It’s quite disturbing to feel like you are naked in front of them.
GMK: Do you feel your films expose you?
FO: I think my films are very personal. That’s why I don’t understand why I do interviews. Everything is in the movies!
GMK: “In the House” posits that an ending should be unexpected and satisfying. Do you feel you achieved that?
FO: I think it’s not up to me to do the end of the film. It’s up to the audience. I think it can be a frustrating ending because the ending is more about the relationship between the teacher and the student. For me it was important to end with this new couple that need each other to survive, and they need each other to tell stories.
GMK: I need you to keep telling stories!
IN THE HOUSE | Directed by François Ozon | Cohen Media Group | Opens Apr. 16 | Landmark Sunshine Cinemas | 143 E. Houston St., btwn. First & Second Sts. | landmarktheatres.com | Lincoln Plaza Cinema | 1886 Broadway at 63rd St. | lincolnplazacinema.com