The prolific François Ozon follows unabashed crowdpleaser ‘Potiche’ with a social satire that’s no less fun, but delivers rather more substance in its sardonic portraiture and pointed self-awareness.
Germain (the ever-waspish Fabrice Luchini) is an old-fashioned teacher at a trendy secondary school who discovers a renewed purpose in the intriguing prose delivered by student Claude (effortlessly poised newcomer Ernst Umhauer). This mischievous outsider turns his fascination with a classmate’s seemingly ideal bourgeois household – and in particular Emmanuelle Seigner’s yummy maman – into a series of weekly writing exercises. Germain seizes upon the pages, but what does his eagerness to sharpen up the writing tell us about his own stalled creativity, his petty prejudices, and even his arid marriage to art gallery manager Jeanne (an impeccable Kristin Scott Thomas)?
Adapting a play by Juan Mayorga, Ozon treats Claude’s serial misadventures as a sort of suave Buñuelian soap opera, yet while we see the interloper’s increasingly daring incursions play out, we’re also treated to teacher’s ‘improved’ versions of events, and it’s soon a real tease distinguishing fact from fiction…if any of it’s ‘fact’ at all.
There’s fun to be had from the pomposity and pretensions of Luchini and Scott-Thomas, yet the surrounding frolics also hint at the hidden agendas behind the stories which fascinate us, and indeed how those stories play up to a distanced, even unhealthy curiosity about the lives of others. Plenty to ponder then, but you can also simply enjoy its gossipy fizz. A witty, naughty, insight-packed provocation which never takes its seriousness too seriously.