Offbeat French drama from director Francois Ozon that explores the relationship between a literature student and the talented pupil whose gift for description he attempts to nurture. Germain (Fabrice Luchini) usually despairs about the quality of the creative writing his pupils produce so when he receives a piece from the previously unremarkable student Claude (Ernst Umhauer) that displays promise he is moved to pledge assistance to the boy. Complicating matters somewhat is the fact that Claude writes about the household of a friend whose mother (Emmanuelle Seigner) he has a crush on and whose mundane lives amuse him. As Germain offers Claude advice on how to improve the dramatic tension within his submissions, the line between fiction and reality begins to blur. A strange power game develops in which Claude and Germain manipulate the family on and off the page, but how will they react when fact and fiction finally collide?
I’ve only seen a handful of French film-maker François Ozon’s more recent films (Potiche, The New Girlfriend), but with this 2012 effort the man strikes me as one of the world’s more interesting writer-directors. Based on a play by Spanish dramatist Juan Mayorga, and with a script by Ozon, In The House is highly ambitious take on themes of academia, art, privacy, class division, censorship, friendship and (perhaps most memorably) the blurring of fact and fiction, delivered by Ozon as a mix of (frequently hilarious) black comedy, mystery, eccentricity and tragedy. If anything, for me at least, the film falters rather on the basis of the scale of its ambition – at times, we just don’t know where it’s going (not necessarily a bad thing, of course) – but it remains a highly intriguing watch, as well as a highly accomplished piece of film-making, with some inventive cinematography (montages, fast motion, etc) by Jerôme Alméras and an intoxicating score by Philippe Rombi.
The film’s set-up is brilliantly done as middle-aged, middle-class couple, Fabrice Luchini’s 'progressive’ teacher Germain Germain and Kristen Scott Thomas’ art gallery manager Jeanne, become 'voyeurs’ to the intrusive antics of the 'fictional world’ of 16-year old pupil to Germain, Ernst Umhauer’s Claude, whose essays create a peeping tom/fantasy world around Claude’s fellow pupil Bastien Ughetto’s Rapha. Ozon gets the hang-ups of the 'bourgeois’ pair just right, overlaying their sense of concern over Claude’s writing (and its potential disruptive effect) with an engaging, dark sense of comedy. The parodying of Jeanne’s 'modern’ art pursuits (constantly mocked by her husband) is, if a little predictable, still very funny. Newcomer Umhauer is excellent as the alternately obsessive, manipulative and vulnerable Claude, about whose motives (peeping tom, sexual awakening, lost soul seeking a family, etc) Ozon keeps us guessing throughout, as is Emmanuelle Seigner as the mother of Rapha, Esther, with whom Claude becomes besotted (well, who wouldn’t, I guess?). Similarly, both Luchini and Scott Thomas are, as ever, reliable, the former particularly good as the 'intellectual’ who lets his passion for art (well, literature), via Claude, lead him astray (I may have detected a 'concluding theme’ around simplicity being preferred over 'sophistication’ when it comes to art).
The skilful way in which Ozon depicts Claude’s ‘dreamworld’ even allows him to get away with, what would otherwise have been, some rather fanciful plotting. And whilst the film’s rather dramatic (and sudden) denouement doesn’t quite convince Ozon’s film remains one that is well worth seeing for its level of ambition alone.
In The House tells an intriguing tale of a teacher (Fabrice Luchini) and pupil where the latter is a gifted writer, much more so than his frustrated mentor. The boy starts writing a serialised piece of 'non-fiction' involving a friend of his and this friend's family, with whom the writer appears to get very involved ... the friend is also in the same teacher's French class. All this is developed through some individual classes Luchini gives to help bring out the youngster's talent. We quickly get drawn in to the ever more lurid revelations, both funny and titillating, that follow, as do Luchini and his wife, played with customary stylishness by Kristin Scott Thomas at her elegant best. It's a light souffle of a film, not very deep, but which holds you somewhat on the edge of your seat ... As real and imagined become more and more confused, Ozon shows himself once again to be a master of a surreal tone that he last handled with this incisiveness in Swimming Pool. Admirers of Scott Thomas need not hesitate - this is one of her best roles, and Luchini also manages to get right inside the role in a way no one else could, you feel by the end.
This is a strange and unusual film which I greatly enjoyed but also found slightly unsettling. It is marked by some outstanding performances - particularly from Fabrice Luchini and Ernst Umhauer (astonishingly sophisticated performance from a 16 year old!) - also, it goes without saying, Kristin Scott Thomas. Beautifully photographed, well paced, very entertaining.
I am not going to try to summarize the story. I have seen it described as a hilarious comedy - it has some very funny moments but I did not see it that way. Almost a thriller but not really - almost a fantasy but not that either. It is best approached with very little knowledge of what you are about to see which involves shifting realities. I feel a plot summary would significantly reduce your enjoyment!
As so often with Ozon it is one of a kind - and rewarding viewing. I need to see it again and am glad it is now available on DVD.
It takes some time for you to realise that the story does not take place in the here and now. You are drawn into the plot and have to navigate your way around the possibilities. Whose mind are you seeing the story through? Who is the arch manipulator? It is very well acted and quite evenly paced. I have never been disappointed by Kristen Scott Thomas' performance - she I so gifted and hard-working. I would trust any script she chose to star in. This is an intriguing and skilful original script.