In the House (Cohen Media Group, R)

film in-the-house_smYou’ll be just as hooked by Claude’s stories as Germain is by the time the film is over.




film in-the-house

Although it seems like most Americans only know François Ozon for the 2003 thriller Swimming Pool, he really is one of France’s greatest modern cinematic storytellers. Don’t get me wrong—I don’t mean to imply that he’s an excellent director, necessarily, or that all of his films are masterpieces (or are even all good), but he does have a way of sucking you into the stories in his films, no matter what they are, that is roughly on a par with Spain’s Pedro Almodóvar and South Korea’s Lee Chang-dong.

With the strong storytelling that is common in his films, it seems appropriate that his newest film, In the House, is a movie whose theme is itself storytelling. It primarily concerns a curmudgeonly high school literature teacher, Germain (Fabrice Luchini), and his star pupil, 16-year-old Claude (Ernst Umhauer), who catches Germain’s eye with an early writing assignment, which requires the students to write about their weekend. Where most students wrote barely literate sentences and unformed paragraphs, Claude’s work, while somewhat distressing in tone, shows a flair for writing that makes failed novelist Germain both excited and jealous. After sharing the writing with his wife, Jeanne (Kristen Scott Thomas), who is similarly enthralled, Germain soon finds himself creating assignments specifically to keep Claude writing, all the other students and their needs be damned.

Claude’s topic in these assignments is his forced ingratiation into his friend Rapha’s (Bastien Ughetto) home (hence the film’s title), where he introduces himself as a friend to Rapha and a math tutor for same, but uses his time in Rapha’s household to eavesdrop on the parents, and to become at least a little obsessed with the matriarch, Esther (Emmanuelle Seigner). Claude has a tendency to write his assignments with something approaching cliffhanger endings, so Germain and Jeanne always stay ravenous for the next installment. Also, much like how Germain makes assignments to keep Claude writing, Claude continually shows more daring when in the Rapha house so that he has more material to write about. But as the things Claude sees and does escalate, both Germain and the viewers of the film begin to lose clarity on what Claude is supposedly writing about based on what he actually witnessed, and what he is making up outright for the sake of a better story.

There’s a lot of potential in this premise, and Ozon doesn’t fail the material. Furthermore, he finds a lot to say about the nature of fact versus fiction, students versus teachers, and other, similar dichotomies. But beyond the subtext, the real reason to see In the House is because it’s as enveloping a tale as you’re likely to see in this summer blockbuster season. It’s slow-moving and thoughtful, but I’m willing to bet that you’ll be just as hooked by Claude’s stories as Germain is by the time the film is over. | Pete Timmermann

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