In the House
07 April 2013
Into the House is a more sombre and bleak effort by François Ozon, following from his über-camp, but heaps of fun, Potiche from a couple of years ago. Fabrice Luchini returns, this time as the high school literature teacher that treads a very fine moral line when it comes to getting the best out of his pupils. For those familiar with Ozon’s previous efforts might be led to believe that he partakes in some lewd relationship with a pupil. Fortunately, Ozon evades this obvious element with something a little bit more subtle but ultimately more sinister and self-desructive.
It is the beginning of a new school year and changes are abound. In this semi-urban state school, students are now forced to wear a uniform to ensure that any idea that they might be unique snowflakes, or whatever, is silenced. Considering the recent political climate in France, this is a slight nod to the no-hijab law in school, even though on the surface it appears to be a racially very homogeneous school, with white middle-class students making the majority of those enrolled.
Luchini is Germain - a failed writer, who has grand ideas about what good writing constitutes and he is adamant to distill the love of literature and a desire to express themselves in more than text-speak to his students. The new rule of having to wear a uniform clearly riles him. His wife Jeanne (Kristin Scott Thomas) runs a modern art gallery, in which she exhibits “shit”, according to Germain. Jeanne’s job is on the line, however, as the new owners (simply referred to as the Twins) want to see some value in keeping the place in business. It doesn’t help that the Twins have no affinity with modern art at all.
Germain and Jeanne spend their days going to cinema, eating salad for dinner, and reading the coursework Germain assigns to his class. For one such assignment, the majority of the students submit very brief descriptions of their weekend - all banal, resorting to no more than a handful of words, and very superficial. Except for one student, Claude (played by Ernst Umhauer, who is absolutely brilliant). He writes about how he helped one of his friends (Rafa, played by Bastian Ughetto) with his maths assignment over the weekend, which gave him access to their perfect suburban home, replete with an NBA-fan father (Rafa Sr., played by Inglourious Basterd’s Denis Ménochet) and the beautiful mother Esther (Emmanuelle Seignier), who plays a sublte MILF role. What Claude writes intrigues both Germain and Jeanne. Soon Germain begins tutoring Claude to write better, which means he needs to go to the Rafa household more often. Claude’s intentions are questionable at best (he wants to ‘replace’ Rafa Jr as the son, he wants to sleep with Esther etc.) and Germain’s persistence leads to some tragic, but never overly melodramatic, consequences.
The film slightly loses focus in the climax, where the melodrama takes over only briefly, but it manages to survive this simply because it is a fascinating magical, mystical journey into the psyche of these characters. The perspective is delightfully fuzzy and you will not be blamed if you question the veracity of all of these events. Which one of these stories is real? Is Claude making all this up? Is Germain? Maybe, even Jeanne?
It is credit to Ozon that he doesn’t give this away and there isn’t an epiphany in the end where one of the characters wake up from a dream. In a way, the dream never ends. It is a world that we are invited to and it is up to us how we would like to interpret that.
In the House is not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination and it is not Ozon’s best film to date, but it is probably the best of his serious features. The cast is uniformly brilliant, but the kudos mainly should go to Luchini who balances humour and sobriety brilliantly and to Umhauer, who reminded me of Ezra Miller - there is a bit of a Kevin in him, both physically and psychologically.