In the House
François Ozon’s slow-burn comic thriller is a sensitive observation of a global race-to-the-bottom that is devaluing culture in all of its varied forms. Set in France, Germain (wonderfully played by Fabrice Luchini) teaches literature and writing to an ever dumber group of students at a private school where uniforms insure conformity. Germain’s waning enthusiasm for teaching is lifted when Claude (Ernst Umhauer), a promising new student, delivers the first installment in a serial essay about his experiences gaining access inside the bourgeoisie home of his classmate Rapha Artole (Bastien Ughetto).
Outlier Claude is obsessed with getting “in the house” of a “perfect family.” He’s been working on executing his plan for more than a year. Claude tutors the sports-loving Rapha in math in exchange for entrée into the Artole household. Ozon makes Claude’s curiosity palpable. We too, are led to desire the physical and incalculable emotional properties hiding behind the home’s closed doors. We become polarized on Claude’s behalf via a combination of Ernst Umhaure’s mannered performance and Ozon’s fetishized portrayal of an idealized middle class existence.
Germain is so enthralled with Calude’s abundant wealth of cataloged details and sexually charged subtext that that he can barely contain himself from influencing the interloper’s actions. In fact, he can’t. He gives Claude overheated technical criticisms about his essays, along with personal copies of his favorite novels, to camouflage his manipulation of his student’s exploits. The inspired professor can’t resist goading Claude to create more conflict in the interest of improving his essays. Germain goes so far as to commit a misdeed involving obtaining the answers to an upcoming math test that might insure Claude’s access into the Artole household. At home, Germain shares Claude’s stories with his art-dealer wife Jeanne (Kristen Scott Thomas).
Ozon’s tightly woven narrative flips neatly between recreations of Claude’s essays and the forward-moving action of the story. Dramatic lines are blurred.
Emmanuelle Seigner’s “middle-class” housewife Esther is Claude’s object of desire. Her provocative “scent” and magazine-lifestyle intoxicates Claude, and de facto Germain who experiences Claude’s activities vicariously.
Ultimately, a question regarding who is teaching who takes on increasing significance in Ozon’s movie, loosely based on Juan Mayorga’s stage play “The Boy in the Last Row.” Issues of class, social responsibility, and human nature’s insatiable appetite for scandal roil through “In the House” with an appropriately ironic tone. The audience is complicit in egging on unreliable characters whose destructive deeds must surly catch up with them. As with François Ozon’s other films (witness “See the Sea,” “Swimming Pool,” “Hideaway”), “In the House” is a slippery genre-blended concoction full of suspense and social commentary that invites its audience to interact with it. Such unique delight is a treat for any filmgoer.
Rated R. 105 mins. (B+) (Four Stars - out of five/no halves)