Friday, March 7, 2014

"The Singular Smell of a Middle Class Woman" : film review

“The Singular Smell of a Middle Class Woman”: 
François Ozon’s In The House
By Liza Béar

Over the course of a dozen features such as Criminal Lovers, Sitcom, Under the Sand, Swimming Pool, Potiche, and several shorts, auteur François Ozon , 45, has forged his own style, urbane and sophisticated, treating provocative psychosexual subject matter with a deft touch. In 2012's In the House, Ozon shows his chops as a master director in handling complex material with humor and dexterity.

Loosely based on the Spanish play, The Boy in the Last Row by Juan Mayorga, Ozon’s adaptation is a devilishly witty satire about a teacher whose efforts at mentoring a bright student run amok. Picking up threads from his 2003 Swimming Pool, starring Charlotte Rampling, that deals with a mystery novelist’s writer’s block, in the new film the central student-teacher relationship , in which the learning goes both ways, anchors the drama and enables Ozon to further explore his own creative process, reality and fiction, and crossing the line. In a way, the film might be seen as Ozon’s dialogue with his younger self.

Set in a small provincial town outside Paris, the story opens at the Lycée Gustave Flaubert during the first faculty meeting of the academic year with the introduction of school uniforms, not the norm in France. Social class and income differentials may be neutralized sartorially, but not so the imagination. And the imagination at work is what Germain (Fabrice Luchini) a literature teacher in his mid-fifties, is quick to respond to while grading 16-year-old Claude’s homework assignment on How I spent My Week-end. (His classmates have turned in a few barely literate sentences about eating pizza and watching TV). Germain reads the whole essay out loud to his wife Jeanne (Kristin Scott- Thomas, in top form), the director of a supposedly avant- garde art gallery, which elicits some acerbic commentary. (Analytical note: By having Germain read out loud, Ozon clearly establishes the function of writing within the film. Later, he uses Claude’s voice-over narration to distinguish between reality and his essays, and ultimately Ozon eliminates the narration.)

Wondering what the life of a “normal” family is like, the resourceful Claude (first-timer Ernst Umhauer) , whose father is paralysed , unemployed, and mother absent, offers to tutor his sportif classmate Rapha (Bastien Ughetto) in trigonometry at home. He thus gets to observe the nuclear family at close quarters. Certain phrases in Claude’s first essay, such as noticing “the smell of a middle class woman” on entering the Artole house, and describing Rapha’s mother Esther (Emmanuelle Seigner, aka Mrs Roman Polanski) as having eyes the color of the sofa, pique Germain’s curiosity. After class, he’s motivated to give the boy extra tutorials on the basics of dramatic writing, including stick figure diagrams on the blackboard--there’s self-referential irony for Ozon here--plies him with tomes of literature, including Flaubert’s A Simple Heart, and becomes engrossed in the weekly installments that Claude turns in, which always end with the words “To Be Continued”; he’s prepared to cross the line to make sure that Claude’s visits to the house as a math tutor continue.
Germain is himself a little-known romance novelist, which adds touch of poignancy to his role and enriches it. Now he exercises his creative impulses vicariously through his student.
As the narrative develops, both Germain and Claude take risks, become co-conspirators in what has in effect become a joint endeavour. When Rapha Sr, (Denis Menochet) and Rapha Jr, are at a basketball game, Claude seduces Esther, “the world’s most bored housewife “ who thumbs through home decoration magazines; after all, didn’t Germain tell him a writer should “love his characters”? Meanwhile, to make sure Rapha gets a good grade in the pending math test, Germain steals a copy of the test from the faculty room and gives it to Claude.

Gradually, reality merges with fiction, and neither Germain, Jeanne, nor the film’s viewers can be quite sure which of the events Claude describes have really happened, whether he has made them happen in order to write about them ( a common ploy among writers) or whether they are figments of his imagination. In any case, Ozon’s adroit mise-en-scene, and especially his skill at orchestrating scene transitions, makes for suspenseful, highly entertaining cinema.

Ozon’s earlier adaptations, all without any trace of staginess, include “Water Drops on Burning Rocks”, an unproduced play by 19-year-old Fassbinder and one of my favorites; Jean- Pierre Gredy and Pierre Barillet’s “8 Women”, and Robert Thomas’s “Potiche” (Trophy Wife), starring Catherine Deneuve, in which Fabrice Luchini plays the testy boss of an umbrella factory. In “In the House” Luchini is thoroughly in his element as the affable, inspired literature teacher; Ernst Umhauer as a sly, manipulative Claude and the rest of the cast are first-rate. 
© Copyright 2013 Liza Béar. All rights reserved.

OZON's latest film "Jeune et Jolie", starring Marina Vacth, was nominated for a Palme d'Or at Cannes in 2013. It's currently playing at IFC Center, Film Society and BAM as part of Rendez-Vous with French Cinema and will open theatrically at IFC on April 25th 2014.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Poem by René Ricard RIP 1946-2014

René died yesterday February 1 in New York. Here's Tide from his 1979-1980 poetry collection, a slim but delectable volume with a turquoise cover published by Dia.


Being with you is stepping out of a limousine
You on my arm is a gold watch
When I'm seen with you my stock goes up
Prices rise. The gas company, Con Ed
You are the most expensive utility
The annual income of an Arab nation
All the clothes in the September GQ
In my closet. You are dry cleaning.
You are shoe polish.Cowboy boots.
Ivory soap. Tide. You're so clean.
Why should I pay my rent, get a phone,
Laundromat or take a bath? You look
And the lint gets brushed off my shoulders.

(c) copyright 1979 René Ricard 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Let's Save Six-Day Postal Delivery

USPS Six-Day Door to Door Delivery in Manhattan. 
Let's save it here and throughout the country!

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Enclave Reading Series @ The Cakeshop, Nov16; 4:15pm

I'm reading this Saturday at 
The Cakeshop,
152 Ludlow Street, 
4 to 6pm. 
The other readers are novelists 
Fiona Maazel and
Jonathan Santlofer; 
the series is organized
by author Jason Napoli Brooks.

Free,  and there's a bar.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Turkish Police Tear Gas Protesters on Istiklal

Friday, June 21, 2013

Occupy Gezi NYC: Pianos at Taksim and Zuccotti Calm the Tensions

NEW YORK, June 15–A few steps below Mark di Suvero’s bracing abstract red sculpture, Joie de Vivre, in the  southeast corner of Zuccotti Park, a grand piano has been installed: Justin Wedes, OWS activist and educator who has just returned from a week at the anti-government protests in Istanbul, is at the keyboard. This being Occupyland, though, an overzealous saxophonist from Harvard drowns him out.
Photo Vernon San
“ On June 12, just as the tensions with the Turkish police were the highest” said Wedes,” a pianist arrived in Taksim Square with his piano.”
The German-born Davide Martello performed with Yigit Ozatalay, a Turkish musician, in front of the Square’s central monument to Mustapha Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the secular Turkish republic after the collapse of the islamist Ottoman empire.

  “It helped to calm the situation,” Wedes said, “to bring solace to the many people who have been injured or whose friends or family have suffered casualties.”

  A hand-made sign at Saturday’s Occupy Gezi NYC rally lists  7478 injuries, 5 people dead (including one policeman), 91 trauma victims, 10 blinded by tear gas canisters fired at close range, and 55 in critical condition, according to statistics from the Turkish Union of Doctors.

 “I felt we needed to bring the same creative energy here in solidarity with the protesters in Gezi Park who we hear at this very moment are being attacked again by police,” Wedes continues. “I saw a lot of parallels between Occupy Gezi and Occupy Wall Street 2011: a festive, joyous mood, an autonomous zone with a free store and a medical station. But Occupy Gezi has been much more intense because of the police response; the stakes are much higher for the protesters there . . .the Erdogan administration has very much underestimated the support that these young protesters have from their families and their communities. People really believe Turkey should remain secular and tolerant. They don’t want to see an overarching government imposing social policies like the prohibition on sales of alcohol after 10pm (a law recently passed) or official interference in family planning and women’s issues.”

For 15 million inhabitants, Istanbul has 1.5% green space compared to New York City’s 17% for 8½ million. Hence the destruction of a park, a quality of life issue, arouses strong emotions. The uprooting of fifteen 75-year-old trees in Gezi Park, the neighborhood’s last remaining green space, was the first step in a redevelopment plan to convert the park into a neo–Ottoman military barracks housing a mall. On May 28, fifty environmentalists who had filed a court petition to block the project began a peaceful sit-in when the trees were bulldozed.

Two days later, in the night of May 30, police raided the park and set fire to the protesters’ tents , firing tear gas canisters, pepper spray, followed by high-pressure, truck-mounted water cannon, also laced with chemicals. The excessive police response to sleeping protesters, documented in social media and the Western European press, though initially ignored by the local television networks--CNN Turkey ran a penguin documentary during these first riots—triggered a spontaneous outpouring of tens of thousands of citizens onto the streets of Istanbul, and hundreds of thousands in 77 cities throughout Turkey.

“The protests have expanded into a larger referendum into the legitimacy of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government, “ said Wedes.
On the Liberty Street side of Zuccotti, the assembled crowd of Turkish Americans and sympathizers,  whose fourth support rally this is have been joined by Greek and Brazilian activists. They observe a minute of silence to honor the victims of today’s third major crackdown in Istanbul.

This latest crackdown of unprecedented savagery came after a meeting between Erdogan and representatives of Taksim Solidarity Platform, a sort of self-appointed umbrella for smaller artist, LGBT and other collectives who’ve been camping at Gezi.

At this meeting Erdogan promised not to touch Gezi until the court had ruled on the environmentalists’ petition. But since Erdogan had already ignored legal process  by bulldozing the Gezi park trees, protesters don’t trust  this latest promise to observe the law.
Other examples of Erdogan’s lack of respect for the law include the detention last week in Ankara of 50 lawyers about to testify against police brutality.
After the minute of silence here in Zuccotti is over, the young woman speaker urges the crowd to make as much noise as possible. Through their chants and signs, the tone of the New York solidarity protests has taken on a new urgency that reflects the escalation of violence in Istanbul. The chants of “Resign, Erdogan”, in both Turkish and English, have morphed into “Fascist, Erdogan” and “This is the end Tayyip, this is the end!”
Protesters  here, as in Istanbul, are enraged not only by Erdogan’s broken promise, but also by the fact that  on Saturday tourists and families were visiting Gezi Park, and children as young as four were tear gassed; when the wounded sought shelter in the 5-star luxury hotels behind the park, where emergency first aid clinics had been set up, the police pursued them there, firing tear gas into the hotel lobbies of the Divan Hotel and the Hilton.
“My blood is boiling,” said a Turkish-American man, a University of Nebraska graduate who has been in the US for 22 years.  “I’m here for people and people are here for me. We are together. When you wake up in the middle of the night thinking about your country, that’s when your blood boils.”
(c) Liza Béar June 2013

© Copyright Liza Béar June 2013