Claude (Ernst Umhauer) is a lonely sixteen year-old boy with an intelligent, ghostly skin and a gift for storytelling. His talent catches the attention of Germain (Fabrice Luchini), his French literature teacher, when he submits a piece of creative writing, set in the middle-class house belonging to classmate Rapha Junior (Bastien Ughetto), his dad Rapha Senior (Denis Ménochet) and bored, beautiful mother Esther (Emmanuelle Seigner).
Claude spends hours ‘in the house’ helping Rapha Jr. with his mathematics, and even more hours sitting around with the family: eating pizza, watching TV and observing Esther’s ‘middle-class curves’. Claude’s stories are astute, sexual and obsessive and always end with a ‘to be continued …’ They capture the imagination of the cynical Germain and his gallery-owner wife Jeanne (Kristin Scott Thomas); so much so that Germain decides to give Claude one-to-one sessions in story-telling technique.
Fabrice Luchini registers a sublime performance as a weary teacher, fed-up with bureaucracy and vapid students. His gentle grumpiness and reigned-in emotion is winning, charming with each fear, disappointment and reserved surprise. Germain is on a mission to mentor and shape Claude’s writing. ‘Who do you write for?’ and ‘Are you writing what you see, or are you transforming it?’ are questions which bring Claude closer to his subjects, easing his loneliness and increasing his passion for the mother.
Before long, Claude crosses the line between the safe, distanced observations of a writer and the desire to control reality, in order to fulfill his desire and meet the narrative peaks of his story. Germain and his wife become more obsessed with Claude’s account of events ‘in the house’, the private domain, and there are serious consequences.
François Ozon’s script (based on the play by Juan Mayorga) is dense with meaning and irony, warranting the length of a longer piece of writing. Yet its rich poetry is directed with Ozon’s characteristic magician-lightness. He liberally dusts the film’s complex heart with luminous dexterity, making it camp, intellectually stimulating and with a quiet aorta of menace.
Claude is the vulnerable auteur, the pale moon behind a stormy cloud, at one with his human need to be loved, yet with a need to control and create devastating fiction. The finale is a surprise, fitting with Germain’s instruction on what makes a good ending: when the reader says ‘I didn’t expect that, but it couldn’t end any other way.’
Director: François Ozon