For French director François Ozon, film is first and foremost an art—not a business.
“In the House,” his newest film, opens today in New York City after having been released in France in the fall of 2012. The movie challenges literature and art in an academic setting—not unlike what Columbia students do everyday.
The film explores the dangerous mentor-mentee relationship between a jaded French teacher, Germain (Fabrice Luchini), and his talented yet dark student, Claude (Ernst Umhauer). Though it takes place in France, the film is not singular to the country, and explores universal concepts such as the ideal family and the role of an author.
Embracing his identity as a French filmmaker, Ozon said he tries not to be too concerned with how his film will be received by an American audience.
“I’m always curious to see [how] a foreign audience reacts to a typically French movie,” he said in an interview with Spectator. He explained that films such as “In the House” are the very opposite of the typical Hollywood blockbuster.
“I don’t need American money to make my movies,” he said. “So it doesn’t change my plans for other movies, hopefully.”
For Ozon, the economic success of his films is secondary to his vision as a filmmaker. And he believes that this is a reflection of the difference between American and French cinema.
“In America, cinema is first a business, it’s an industry,” he said. “In France, it is first an art.”
“In the House” grapples with the question of how to define art. Germain is a traditionalist who is challenged by his wife to consider how modern art fits into his classical worldview. Ozon sees this as the central theme of the film, and he was careful throughout its production to make sure he was exploring the definition of art in “a funny way.”
“In the House” fuses classic storytelling techniques with modern twists and dark humor. The portrayal of the Artoles, a typical suburban French family, features classic familial drama with satire. And the film subverts traditional narrative style by inserting Germain into scenes in which he does not belong.
Ozon is quick to give credit to the play the film is based on, noting that the film’s unconventional narrative comes from the work from which it is adapted.
“In the play, all the characters were on stage at the same time, and I think it’s interesting to have this effect in the film,” he said.
Fabrice Luchini has worked with Ozon before, and was especially excited to play such an intellectual character. Luchini, a veteran French actor of both the cinema and the stage, “loved the character of Germain,” according to Ozon.
Ozon even joked that Luchini loved the role a little too much.
“Working with [Fabrice] is a pleasure. …Sometimes it can be too much because he calls you in the middle of the night to go over a scene,” Ozon said.
Ozon and Luchini’s shared work ethic made them a great pair. Ozon said that he too is always working, whether he realizes it or not. He is constantly gathering inspiration for his next film or story.
“For all [writers and directors], the inspiration is all around us,” he said. “We are like vampires searching for the blood every day. You are always working or thinking of how you can use it [reality] in story. We are very dangerous people.”