With another school year at hand, literature teacher Germain (Fabrice Luchini) finds himself at odds with an administration driven to dissolve student identity (this will be the year that students are to wear uniforms) and a new batch of students who can barely string together an essay. Sardonic as ever, Germain reads some of the work from his students to his wife Jeanne (Kristin Scott Thomas). It’s only until he comes across the work from a student named Claude (Ernst Umhauer) that Germain and Jeanne pause. It’s a piece exhibiting delicate prose and unreserved voyeurism that hints at the student’s writing potential. Taking the student under his wing, Germain soon discovers that the details outlined in Claude’s essay may not be a fictionalized account of another family, but rather an observational piece. This is where Francois Ozon builds a narrative on the writing process and the oft blurred lines between reality and fiction. Both an assessment of one’s voyeuristic tendencies and how we mine for material in our writing, In the House is perhaps most aptly described as the bogus adventure of nihilists with good imaginations.
Like with Ozon’s 2003 film Swimming Pool, the director’s penchant for titillation is derived from an incredible premise and the ability to capture its essence on film. In the House, based on Juan Mayogra’s stage play, has a pulsating cinematic energy that ebbs and flows on the director’s command. It’s a masterful exercise that validates some critics’ comparisons of Ozon’s work to that of Alfred Hitchcock. Ozon vividly captures his character’s moral transgressions and often recalibrates his focus on critiquing the socioeconomic status of his characters. Germain’s influence on Claude’s writing is the result of perceived authority that is eventually subverted when the unbeknownst teacher plays a critical role in his student’s work. Ozon steadily balances comic and dramatic components in confident strides, very openly acknowledging that enormity of his subject matter – the picture has the capacity to be a coming-of-age story, an incestuous Shakespearean drama, and a piece of pulp from one scene to another.
In the House provides a uniquely cultivated cinematic experience. For any would-be writer, it’s an incredibly poignant piece on a writer’s development. On a cinematic level, it crisscrosses narrative plains and provides a cleverly realized stage play on film. The pictures mounts it tension and functions as a literary brainteaser, questioning its audience’s ability to take information and consider its validity. The manner in which individuals analyze and process information has been of thematic consequence in the past year (Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell, Abbas Kiarostami’s Like Someone in Love) but Ozon reaches an inspired middle ground – he viscerally engages the audience while totally fucking with their expectations.