In the House

Directed by François Ozon and based on the play, The Boy in the Last Row, In the House fits perfectly into Ozon’s oeuvre.  If your kind of movie is a blow-em-up, Hollywoodized version of real life that is full of big names and predictability, then you’ve come to the wrong show.  However, if you like a compelling story interwoven with could-be-real characters acting under superb direction, then you’ll be entranced by what’s on the screen.  This tres French thriller is packed with mystery, explores the idea of voyeurism (a little bit of Peeping Tom action, too) and has plenty of imagination all while tackling the art of the story.

In the House is on one level about the teacher-student relationship between Germain (Fabrice Luchini) and Claude (Ernst Umhauer) and on another level about the story of what happens in the house of Claude’s peer, Rapha (Bastien Ughetto).

Germain is a tired, middle-aged teacher at a school that’s championing modernization, where students are not pupils, but rather “learners.”  This concept doesn’t sit well with Germain as we see him reading homework assignments of “What did you do this weekend?” which are comprised of “I ate pizza and played video games.”

However, when he comes across Claude’s paper, there’s a visible, visceral change in Geramain.  He reads the paper aloud to his wife, Jeanne (Kristin Scott Thomas, who plays her part superbly), the sharp and sexy modern-art dealer at risk of losing her gallery.

Germain decides he will have private sessions with Claude to help construct this young and talented writer’s prowess.  To keep the story and lesson going, Claude must continue to stay in Rapha’s house and meddle with the goings-on.

Inside, we meet Rapha’s family – the frustrated but honorable Rapha Sr. (Denis Ménochet), the most bored woman on Earth Esther (Emmanuelle Seigner), and confused but genuine Rapha Jr.  The casting is spot-on, as not only do they look like they could actually share DNA, but their chemistry is palpable.  It’s as if the audience is catching a glimpse of what a life like this would actually be: Ozon is not showing whimsical functions of a far-fetched story, but rather the mundane details of nights filled with pizza and basketball and discussions of math tutors.

Ozon shakes up the lives of this middle-class family by the introduction of Claude.  As Claude continues his lessons of literature, story arcs, and characters, he uses Germain’s tutelage and urgings to inculcate himself and these new learnings into the Rapha house, adding a speed bump into their everyday.

But with Ozon at the helm and with this meta-reflectiveness theme running throughout, it becomes harder and harder for the audience (and even Germain) to determine what is real, what is Claude’s imagination and what is fiction for the sake of Claude’s homework assignment.  Everyone involved in the story becomes affected – from those who meddle and create to those being played with.  And through the mastery and puppetry of Ozon, the film’s audience gets wrapped up in the story and lost somewhere between reality of a fiction and imagination of a fictitious character.

Although it’s easy to feel a bit confused at the end, it’s one of those great films that keep you thinking a while after you’ve gone, knowing that the only true answers can be found in the mind of Ozon. But with acting this strong and a story so intriguing, it’s worth the ride.