High on the list of best movies of 2013 (so far) is François Ozon’s brilliant, complex, provocative, yet extremely playful In the House. I say that with no reservations and employ no qualifiers. This is quite simply a stunning work that ought to be seen by the widest possible audience. Even if you hate subtitles (yes, it’s in French), you should see this if you really care about quality film. The movie is correctly advertised as a mystery-thriller — à la Hitchcock even — but Ozon’s work is hardly your average suspense thriller. Its “crimes” are more intellectual transgressions than crimes. And the film’s considerable suspense comes from a genuine sense of not knowing where it might lead next and what the ramifications might be for all concerned. It’s almost a deconstruction of a voyeurist thriller that’s voyeuristic itself — on an entirely new level.
The story involves an embittered failed writer turned literature teacher, Germain (Fabrice Luchini, Potiche), who becomes intrigued when one of his students, Claude Garcia (Ernst Umhaeur), shows actual literary talent. The catch is that Claude’s writings (which we see acted out) all detail his involvement with classmate Rapha’s (Bastien Ughetto) family. In fact, Claude admits using Rapha, who means little to him, merely to obtain entrance to the family’s home. That middle-class home and family represent a kind of perfection that Claude’s own homelife — a long-departed mother, an invalid father, an undesirable neighborhood — doesn’t provide. His use of Rapha is very calculated — arrived at by spending the previous summer observing the house from a park across the street. The family is pure bourgeoisie — the basketball-loving, businessman husband (Denis Menochet, Inglourious Basterds) and the bored wife (Roman Polanski’s real-life wife, Emmanuelle Seigner). Claude is both attracted to them and repelled by them, something that comes across in his writing.
Complicating matters further, Germain quickly finds himself hooked on the story as it unfolds — each paper reads “to be continued.” To a lesser more cautious degree, so does Germain’s wife, Jeanne (Kristin Scott Thomas). In fact, she becomes increasingly concerned — and wonders if it’s the story or Claude himself her husband is attracted to — when Germain’s involvement becomes more active, helping to shape the direction of the boy’s writings. Soon the story — or Claude, who seems to be playing Germain — has moved from interest to obsession for the teacher. This is both creepy and extremely witty. Germain can in fact be seen as the audience urging the writer to provide elements that are lacking. (Or maybe he’s a movie director wanting rewrites from a screenwriter?) In essence, the film critiques itself as it goes along. Germain even makes fleeting appearances in the depictions of the story’s actions, commenting on those actions.
Without giving away too many details about the constantly shifting dynamics between all the players — Germain, Claude, Jeanne, Rapha and both parents — I can say that the film provides a brilliantly complex, ever-changing portrait of all the characters. We may never get to the bottom of how much is real and how much is a product of Claude’s imagination, but that’s hardly the film’s greater concern. The ending, which is clearly not something Claude has written, actually fulfills Germain’s belief that the best endings are those that surprise us, yet make us realize that it could end no other way. And the very last image is a triumph of imagery that even Hitchcock would have envied. This is simply one terrific and terrifically compelling film. It’s a funny, perceptive, provocative, twisted tale told by a master filmmaker. Rated R for sexual content and language.
Playing at Fine Arts Theatre