François Ozon, 105 mins, 15

Film review: In the House - It starts like early Michael Haneke, but finishes like late Woody Allen

3.00

 

François Ozon's tantalising new comedy, In the House, is all about storytelling, and that's something it does delightfully well – to begin with, anyway. Fabrice Luchini stars as a prissy middle-aged teacher of creative writing at the French equivalent of a modern comprehensive. He has resigned himself to being bored to tears by his pupils' semi-literate compositions, but one evening he reads an essay that sends his eyebrows rocketing above his owlish spectacles. Its writer is a 16-year-old (Ernst Umhauer) who has inveigled his way into a classmate's home in order to spy on and satirise his enviable life. The teacher and his wife, Kristin Scott Thomas, are appalled by the voyeurism – but not so appalled that they aren't salivating for the next chapter. Soon, Luchini is breaking school rules to ensure that the boys maintain their friendship, and advising the protégé on how to improve his subsequent undercover dispatches.

It's a brilliant premise. For a start, it offers us a deliciously sinister cuckoo-in-the-nest thriller. But it also offers us the pleasure of seeing Luchini and Scott Thomas mirror our own guiltily titillated reactions. On top of that, there are the self-reflexive scenes of the teacher criticising his pupil's prose, so we, in turn, get some lessons in writing and rewriting. And then there's the mystery of whether the essays are all true, or whether both the teacher and the viewer are being taken for a ride. Phew. It's like Funny Games, except more funny and more of a game. After half an hour, I was rubbing my hands and asking where on earth Ozon would take us next.

The answer, I'm afraid, is nowhere in particular. Umhauer's delicate, angel-devil beauty is enough to suggest that he could wreck lives with a bat of an eyelid, but in the event he's disappointingly well-behaved, at least by the standards of teenage boys. Ozon's allusions to class divisions and the teacher's own frustrated literary ambitions come to nothing, while a comic sub-plot about Scott Thomas's travails as an art gallery manager has precious little to do with the central narrative.

In the House is always diverting, but it becomes more like one of the light, slight strands of a recent Woody Allen film than the devastating mind-bender it might have been. In its last half-hour, Luchini keeps telling his pupil that his story needs a better ending. Most viewers will be thinking much the same.

Another example of a film that doesn't quite reach its potential, Good Vibrations (Lisa Barros D'Sa & Glenn Leyburn, 103 mins, 15 **) is an amiable, irreverent biopic of Terri Hooley (Richard Dormer), the record-shop owner who nurtured the Belfast punk scene. Dormer is a decade too old for the part, but he certainly has the gnome-ish charm that seems to have been Hooley's defining feature. Determined to have nothing to do with either the Loyalists or the Republicans, he sweet-talks some paramilitaries into letting him set up his record shop. "There's to be no trying to kill me," he chides. At this point, Good Vibrations looks set to be a more political – and noisier – answer to The Commitments.

It isn't. Hooley goes on to discover the Undertones, among other bands, but Good Vibrations doesn't get around to establishing who the musicians are, or what their songs mean to them. Indeed, it doesn't establish what punk means to anyone in Belfast, so we're left to conclude that it's the tinpot hobby of a feckless eejit who doesn't deserve his long-suffering wife (Jodie Whittaker). More than anything, what's lacking from Good Vibrations is punk rock's adrenalin and drive. Someone needed to turn up the volume.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices