In The House

15 Aug

in the house

 

Director: François Ozon

Writers: Juan Mayorga (play), François Ozon (screenplay)

Stars: Fabrice Luchini, Ernst Umhauer, Kristin Scott Thomas

Motion Picture Rating: R

Runtime: 105 minutes

 

 

Unlike the film Carnage this sub-titled French film does not betray its roots as a play. Its themes include modern manners, class, parenting and paranoia just like Carnage, but In the House benefits from having a number of internal and external locations and director Francois Ozon makes the best out of them. It remains a highly intelligent and literate piece of film-making, but it is that much bigger and smarter than Carnage and there is something indelibly French about it.

Fabrice Luchini plays ageing literature teacher Germain, Kristin Scott Thomas plays his art gallery curating wife Jeanne and Ernst Unhauer is Germain’s favourite pupil Claude. They all live in a fairly large French town and Germain and Claude attend a contemporary school. The film opens there with the headmaster telling his staff that school uniforms are to be reintroduced. He talks about formality and equality, but Germain rolls his eyes. It is clear that he hankers for less structured and homogenized times. He is a little bored and a lot irritated.

Germain is depressed about the quality of his new students’ writing until he comes upon an essay from Claude. Whilst others write about having pizza, watching TV and shopping, Claude describes the house of his new best friend Rapha and of meeting Rapha’s parents. The writing is clinical and rather sneering. Claude describes them as lazily middle-class and it’s not clear what his intentions are. He has befriended Rapha and wheedled his way into a house that he once admired from afar, but why? Is Claude a stalker? Is Claude looking for surrogate parents? Could this film go the way of Michael Haneke’s Funny Games and see blood on Claude’s hands?

The tone darkens, but also gets funnier as Claude gets more ensconced in family Rapha. Germain becomes more intrigued and coaches Claude outside of school hours on how to properly write a story. His failings as a novelist and his and Jeanne’s lack of children appear to be fuelling the enterprise. Claude gives little away, but is an odd young man at ease in the company of adults. Only Jeanne really worries about the boy, her husband’s growing obsession and some of their borderline immoral behaviour.

In the House is dark and it is comic. It walks that line incredibly well and includes some astute social observations. The lead characters are rarely comfortable with each other and we the audience are the same. There is something of Haneke and Woody Allen about this film. It is very clever. Such literate and intelligent film-making is rare today and this French wonder is thoroughly recommended. The acting is of high quality, with Luchini shining as the conflicted teacher Germain. The ending is also strong and not easy to foresee. The final images are highly effective and sum up so much about modern life.

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