Like a pet who doesn’t know when to stop eating, French writer/director François Ozon overdoses on his own cleverness, cancelling out much good work. Here, a talented, but wormy high school kid (self-portrait, anyone?) serializes the on-going home life of a school pal as a writing project for a prickly Lit teacher. He puts himself in the story, too, over-hearing confidences (often in plain sight) and budding up to everyone in turn, like an androgynous, teenaged Eve (ALL ABOUT EVE/’50) Harrington. But what’s really going on ‘in the house’ and what’s being made up to serve the writing exercise? And, just as important to his mentoring teacher, how good is the writing? The situation is already loaded with ?s, but Ozon can’t stop himself, adding the teacher & his wife (Kristin Scott Thomas) to the boy’s burgeoning Bildungsroman, then pulling out a new stylistic card so that teacher & writer can physically (well, metaphysically) pop up in the middle of scenes they’re working on. The filmic devices distance us from the action, which is okay, but also make every narrative decision start to feel arbitrary, which isn’t. All that remains is a cruel gleam in the eye of our teen whiz kid. Kubrick fanciers feel free to jump in. Everyone else will be tuning out just when we should be tuning in. Makes you wonder about Ozon's parents, both teachers.
DOUBLE-BILL: Alexander Payne’s ELECTION/’99 works out similar elements. Truer, crueler, and without Ozon’s formalist crutches.