In the House (Dans la maison)
Written by Juan Mayorga (play), François Ozon
Directed by François Ozon
French director François Ozon has been working steadily albeit fairly quietly for over two decades, striking the occasional hit with films like 8 Women and Swimming Pool. His latest effort In the House has the potential to be another one of Ozon’s sleeper hits. The film tells the story of French Literature teacher Germain Germain who becomes enamored with the writing of one of his students in particular, shy boy-in-the-last-row Claude (Ernst Umhauer). Claude’s weekly assignments detail his exploits within the house of a fellow student. Germain becomes more and more involved in Claude’s narrative and soon helps Claude set in motion a series of events that impacts both Claude’s story as well as the lives of student, teacher and the people around them.
This tightly written and structured film is an interesting study on how the author – any author – manipulates the reader. Throughout the film, just as Claude begins to manipulate Germain, we are at times reminded that Ozon may be manipulating us just the same. Or is he? As the film goes on and Claude’s story comes to a head, it becomes increasingly unclear where exactly the line between reality and fiction is. As the movie progresses, it becomes more and more clear that this isn’t your average mentor-mentée piece. On the contrary, the film quickly reveals itself to be a darkly comedic thriller that features many laugh out loud moments but also the occasional shocking moment that will have its audience gasping out loud.
Apart from a smart script, the film also features captivating performances by Fabrice Luchini as Germain, Kristin Scott Thomas as his wife Jeanne and especially Ernst Umhauer as Claude. The film spends a lot of time zeroing in on Claude’s face and expressions as he meddles more and more in his classmate’s life and Umhauer plays it perfectly.
Though the story begins to unravel a bit by the final third of the film, In the House maintains a fast and gripping pace throughout. As more and more elements that we thought we could trust come apart, viewers will find themselves pulled deeper and deeper into the intricate story arc of the film.