Film Review – In The House
Connecting to one another through writing, stirring passions with words, blurring the lines between fact and fiction, uncovering sad personal truths buried in a typical family dynamic…that is a lot of the subtext running throughout the compelling new French film In The House. Directed by the renowned François Ozon with a simmering noir-ish intensity, he portrays a connection between a disillusioned literature teacher and his gifted student.
Germain, played by Fabrice Luchini, is a bored high school teacher who thinks his students are lazy and unimaginative. One day while sharing writing samples he’s correcting with his wife (played by the always compelling Kristin Scott Thomas), he comes across an oddly descriptive paper written by one of his more withdrawn students. The 16-year-old Claude (Ernst Unhauer) describes a creepy intimate encounter he had worming his way into the household of a struggling math student he has been tutoring. He inappropriately describes his co-student’s mother, played by the always luminous Emmanuelle Seigner. This kid conveys his own fascination and lust, but also innocence and curiosity, through his writing. Germain is attracted by the writing and quickly decides to take Claude under his wing. During after school sessions, the student and teacher end up poring over every detail of Claude’s sessions tutoring. What portion of the writing is real? What part is fiction? How the teacher is able to make various excuses for his pupil’s behavior and even get drawn into events is the underlying tension of In The House.
Luchini is funny and engaging as Germain. His voyeuristic interest in this writing is far more exciting than anything going on in his own life. And he finds he will assist in manipulating other teachers, manipulate students, and cross ethical boundaries just to keep the story going. Meanwhile, he ignores what’s happening with his wife, who is stressing about her struggling art gallery career. He’s more attentive to his imagined literary world than to the real one he’s living in. It’s actually interesting how the older couple becomes more engaged in the world that Claude describes than in their own home. Increasingly they can’t relate to each other, so their critique of the boy’s writing becomes laden with commentary on themselves.
In The House evokes some of the same feelings as other Single White Female or One Hour Photo stalker-type films. But while that genre generally works to become increasingly nefarious and deadly, this movie is more nuanced. A lot of the typical entries in the genre devolve into a serial killer slasher film. Not so here. The retelling of events in the titular household is surreal. Some scenes have Claude and Germain pausing the action to discuss style. Often they will try various versions of the same scene. The story is what’s important to both of them.
While a fixture in French cinema, here in the States Ozon is probably best know for Swimming Pool from a few years ago. Clearly the director knows how to deal in intrigue and mood. In The House is sly fun.
Final Grade: A-