When watching Francois Ozon’s ‘In the House’, I was repeatedly reminded of Atom Egoyan’s ‘Adoration’. Both films tackle the idea of obsession and fabrication as unified entities and interwoven truths, and both carry and heaviness about them that seems rooted in something concealed.
But then, with regards to ‘In the House’, things start to shift, tonally.
This is where ‘In the House’ rises above being yet another ‘clever film’ and becomes something more, something substantial. It’s not merely clever, it’s remarkably astute and says so much for those very subjects thanks to an almost witty and playful shift in nature. Ozon’s directorial achievement here is easily overlooked, but he handles the film’s core with such organic grace. He allows the film’s finale to coat over the audience, pandering to us without giving in to obvious manipulations. The homage to films like ‘Rear Window’ (this is vastly superior, but I know I’m in the minority when it comes to that film) makes for something truly rewarding, and that final shot is especially effective ‘because’ of the buildup created by Ozon. Yes, as the film descends into the depths of Ozon’s painted portrayal of roving eyes and wandering minds, the audience is taken for a ride they won’t soon forget.
And thanks to that finale, they’ll continue to recall and dissect.
‘In the House’ tells of a partnership of sorts that forms between a precocious young student and his English teacher. Claude is deeply affected by his family life and the perceived perfection of a middle class family he attempts to draw close to. Latching onto his classmate, Rapha, Claude finds a way to weasel his way into their lives and begins to write about it for his class project. His teacher, Germain, is at first almost repulsed by the distain and judgmental attitude with which Claude writes about this family, but he is also instantly intrigued and soon begins to encourage and even aid Claude in his infiltration of his family’s life. Claude becomes like a son to Rapha Senior and becomes an object of desire and escape for Rapha’s mother, Esther. But more than that, Claude becomes a form of voyeuristic escape for Germain, who lives through Claude’s words, dissecting their worth and prodding Claude to ‘create his own truth’ by altering his story with creative liberties, obviously convincing Claude to take those liberties within his own reality.
The conclusion is deeply profound, and distinctly creative.
The way that Ozon weaves his screenplay to tackle such deeply rooted subjects of family life, childhood adolescence, the loss of innocence and even sexual boundaries (the brief glimpses of homosexuality and the sexual friction between father and son are brilliant flickers of thought) is outstanding and really shows a depth of identity that transcends the film’s seeming gimmick of manipulated storylines.
Ozon plays with his actors like pawns, and they all (for the most part) fit into their mold perfectly. Fabrice Luchini is outstanding as the film’s morally corrupted center. He portrays the fibers of Germain’s intrigue to perfection, especially as the film spirals to a close. Ernst Umhauer (who looks a tad like Ezra Miller) plays to the camera too much in the end (he tries too hard to get into the spirit of the tonal shifts), but for the most part he plays off of Luchini rather well. Both Seigner and Scott Thomas are marvelous here. Seigner has a quite storm within her, but her character’s final arc is almost too subtle. Scott Thomas, on the other hand, builds to such a tremendous break here that I was completely blown over by her progression of character.
For me though, the star here is Denis Menochet. It doesn’t hurt that he is incredibly handsome and hard not to look at, but he is the best fit for the continually shifting tonal avenues in the film. He understands the layer of caricature that is needed to sell Claude’s story, and when he does have his bit scenes (his angry confrontation with Luchini and his tearful confession to Seigner), he blows everyone else out of the water.
For me, ‘In the House’ was a real surprise. I wasn’t sure what I was getting into when I turned it on, and for the film’s first two thirds it felt almost too heavy or unsure of its footing and yet it all came together remarkably well in the final act, where Ozon ties up every loose end and identifies the honesty within the core relationship in the film, making everything make sense in a way that lingers in the audience’s mind.
I give the film an A-, verging on an A. It is really well done and has a lot going for it. I wonder how this will play out this awards season, because while it hasn’t a chance with Oscar I can see this being the ‘Summer Hours’ of the year; racking up critics’ awards and wins in the Foreign Language category despite not being eligible for Oscar. I’d love for Scott Thomas and Menochet to get some traction, but they won’t.