In François Ozon's new film In the House
, it is clear from the title sequence on a school notebook and as
Fabrice Luchini's jaded high school literature teacher cynically commenting on the new rule on school uniforms in the first few scenes, that something deliciously sinister is brewing.
Germain (Fabrice Luchini) notices the writing of Claude (Ernst Umhauer) while
correcting mountains of his students' weekly assignment. It's the 16-year old's description of his friend's mom that catches
his eye, "that unmistakable odor of a middle-class woman," that stands out among
the sea of mindless scribbles about cell phones and pizzas. He reads on and sees potential. His interest is piqued. After reading more of Claude's 'observations,' Germain is hooked.
He zeros in on the boy, tutoring
and egging him on to continue writing about his friend's 'perfect family,' even if it means the
story becomes increasingly, uncomfortably voyeuristic. Claude gains an access to the family and the house in the pretense of tutoring his friend Rafa on
math. This 'perfect family' consists of Rafa, an affable, ordinary kid; Rafa Sr. (Denis
Ménochet), a macho man obsessed with sports and everything China; and Esther
(Emmanuelle Seigner), an alluring but bored housewife. Claude strategically
advances on and pulls back from the family under Germain's instructions. Is Germain precariously
living his desires and unfulfilled ambition through his young pupil? What's his endgame?
As usual, Ozon's layered, Hitchcockian pulp is impossible to resist. It pulls you right in with the
promise of voyeuristic pleasure. But just like Julie in Swimming Pool
, it's young Claude
who becomes an unreliable narrator. He starts out, seemingly, as an innocent pupil,
writing up everything he sees to please his teacher. The thing is, we know
nothing about Claude: we never see his house nor his parents. Ozon teases us with the notion of what's fiction and what's real. As the 'spying' goes
along, it's incensed Germain who loses control and helplessly falls victim to the
narrative he helps to create.
The acting is superb all around. Luchini's usual self-absorbed upper-class
nebbishness is a perfect fit for the role of a failed writer/depressed high school teacher. Kristin Scott Thomas is just as immaculate as
Germain's superficial wife, who manages an art gallery that
displays dictator themed blow-up sex dolls and penis swastikas. The
newcomer Ernst Umhauer shines as fresh-faced Claude, who can turn the
tables on manipulative and overbearing Germain and go mano-a-mano with him on storytelling.
It is very hard to do a comedy about writing well. In the House
takes on classic storytelling in a similar manner to how Spike Jonze's Adaptation
took on screenwriting, without cheeky showmanship or self-referential cleverness. It is a seductive, witty and deliciously naughty piece of filmmaking. In the House
opens on April 19 in New York and Los Angeles, followed by a national release. Dustin Chang is a freelance writer. His musings and opinions on the world can be seen at www.dustinchang.com
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