In the House

In the House PosterWhat’s a perfect family’s house like?

In order to prepare for François Ozon’s, In the House (2012), I bought and watched his 2003 film, Swimming Pool.  The critical testimonial on the case of Swimming Pool read “Wickedly Delicious!” while In the House bespoke a film “sinfully delicious” and “deliciously witty.”  What these reviewers find delicious is the sin.  Sin approached with wide eyes and indecent anticipation.  Ozon finds the danger in the indecency and ratchets it so high as to turn tension into a thriller.  The young people at the center of these two films are so outside of the middle-class moral bubble that sex may turn to murder.  But if I were forced to praise the flavor of one over the other–and does not the weight of duty force my eager fingers–it would be in toast of In the House which brings expression into the foreground to tease our sense of reality without becoming too ambiguous to choose which we think is the more real.

Germain (Fabrice Luchini) teaches literature–do they call it French?–to high school barbarians.  He puts to them a simple exercise “What did you do over the weekend?”  Most can muster no more than two lines about pizza or television.  One student writes that over the weekend, he got himself into the a house of a classmate on the pretense of tutoring him in math.  The student, Claude (Ernst Umhauer) had watched the house over the summer, wondering about its occupants and their perfection.  Germain, and his wife Jeanne (Kristin Scott Thomas), are intrigued and Germain gives the boy private writing lessons to improve his nascent talents.  The story goes on every weekend, getting deeper and stranger with Germain and the tale coming into greater and greater conflict with what is real and what is imaginary.  And at what cost the perfect middle-class family? With the father (Denis Ménochet) obsessed with the Chinese, the mother (Emmanuelle Seigner) disappointed, and the son (Bastien Ughetto) too confused to explain.  To be continued…

While the sexual element is certainly the dramatic core of the film, it is the writing process that was the driving force of the film.  Claude will bring Germain his latest work and the scene will play out under Claude’s narration.  Other times, it seems as though we watch Claude in real time and, suddenly, Germain will pop out of a closet and chastise Claude for a cliché piece of plotting or inspired bit of character work.  It’s a wonderful device that keeps the film fresh and exciting.  It isn’t clear which part is real and which is imagined or exaggerated.  It’s also hilarious in the dark ironies Ozon plays with.

Ozon wrote and directed the film, adapted from a play by Juan Mayorga.  It’s certainly a tighter film than Swimming Pool and a cleaner expression of the writing process.  Swimming Pool is about a mystery writer who goes to the vacation home of her publisher (and probable lover) to recharge her batteries.  There, she looks at something for a moment and it inspires pages.  The publisher’s young French daughter shows up and the setting changes into a dark and jealous one.  Swimming Pool also plays with reality and imagination, but without any clues as to which is which.  Perhaps that is a way to express writing more universally, by giving the inspirational impetus and letting the viewer project what happens between the writer and her work.

The film as a whole can also be seen as an expression of the creative process itself–what is real, what is not, did we see a story or the work of the author’s imagination?  Because we don’t realize the dichotomy until the very end, it’s a bit like Fight Club (1999) without the anarchy.  Whereas In the House is more playful and ever-present, so you can engage with situation without being confounded by it.  The film In the House most resembles is Hitchcock’s Suspicion (1941) where things may or may not be as they seem.  I guess you’ll just have to watch.

Movies mentioned in this review…

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About Prof. Ratigan

A semi-lawyer and amateur enthusiast.
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