By Don Simpson | April 16, 2013
Director: François Ozon
Writers: François Ozon (screenplay), Juan Mayorga (play “El chico de la última fila”)
Starring: Fabrice Luchini, Ernst Umhauer, Kristin Scott-Thomas, Emmanuelle Seigner, Denis Menochet, Bastien Ughetto
Germain (Fabrice Luchini) teaches literature at a French school that is striving to become more modern in its teaching techniques. An old school curmudgeon, Germain seems to disagree with any changes to the education system. This year, for example, the students have been forced to wear a standard uniform in order to create a greater sense of equality [or conformity] among the various social classes; but as Germain grades his students’ papers, he becomes increasingly certain that the 16-year-old kids are not getting any smarter because of their new dress code.
Upon reading a provocative yet well-written essay by Claude (Ernst Unhauer), Germain decides to take the one and only stand-out student under his wing. That essay — which expresses Claude’s desire to enter the house of his classmate, Rapha (Bastien Ughetto) — turns out to be the first in a series of realistic accounts about a working class boy’s obsessive fascination with an idyllic middle-class family. As Germain coaches Claude on storytelling conventions, the serial narrative takes on a variety of perspectives, styles and intentions. The line between reality and fiction remains blurred because, no matter how much influence Germain forces upon the authorial direction of the story, it continues to reflect what appears to be Claude’s first-hand experiences.
Akin to writer-director François Ozon’s masterful trickery showcased in Swimming Pool (2003), we never quite know who’s story we are observing or where the internal story starts and stops. A clever post modern diatribe about the authorial manipulation of perspective, In the House is a film that deserves multiple viewings to pick up on the subtle intricacies of the plot. At first glance, In the House may seem like a home immersion thriller, but it is actually so much more than that. As part of his slight of hand, Ozon gives us a guided tour of literary writing styles, but he does this with such magical finesse that it is barely even noticeable.
On yet another level of the narrative, Ozon showcases the ways in which people manipulate each other, as if they are directing the supporting characters of their own personal narratives. Not only are Claude and Germain wrestling over the authorial control of the serial essays, but they are also trying to influence the trajectories of each other’s lives. Germain uses Claude as a vessel to relive his youth and give a career in literature another try; Claude, on the other hand, plays Germain like a puppet, relishing in the ability to control an adult authority figure.