In The House

In The House

****

Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

François Ozon's acerbically witty In the House (Dans La Maison) is based on the play The Boy in the Last Row by Juan Mayorga and it is this school boy, Claude (Ernst Umhauer), who manages to change lives with his writing.

When Germain, a teacher at the Gustave Flaubert Lyceum, tells the secretary that he "read Schopenhauer all summer", the line carries a similar weight as Rita Hayworth's striptease song in the 1957 movie Pal Joey directed by George Sidney. "Zip! I was reading Schopenhauer last night. Zip! And I think that Schopenhauer was right," she sings and we smile, because both characters might be concerned with will and representation, but really only want to signal a need to be taken seriously, which, of course, results in the opposite.

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Germain, is played by the brilliant Fabrice Luchini, perfectly dressed in mushroom brown crew neck sweaters and moss green baggy corduroy pants, resembling an alert earthworm who clings to his sense of intellectual superiority and seems only dimly aware of his deep, deep unhappiness. He teaches writing and literature to high school students, whose cultural highlights include TV and pizza, at least in the homework essays about their weekends he tells them to write. Germain shares this with his wife Jeanne (Kristin Scott Thomas), who works as curator and manager of the town's art gallery. Scott Thomas, with short "practical" hair, environmentally aware jewelry and a pair of the small rectangular glasses of the suburban educationally privileged, plays Jeanne with a righteous amount of worry and oblivion.

The gallery, she works in, and is afraid might close, if she doesn't put up the right art, is called the Minotaur's Labyrinth, and has some choice pieces on display. A swastika, made out of four crooked replicas of an exclusively male body part, and blow-up dolls with the faces of Hitler and Stalin, occupy the Sex and Dictatorship exhibition.

Classic literature, the La Fontaine fables and Flaubert's genius have as little real impact on the actions of the schoolteacher and failed novelist as provocative artworks have on his gallerist wife.

The student Claude, whose class assignments become more fascinating than any Bildungsroman, convinces his teacher to tutor him after school. Claude's social background remains opaque for a long time, as the school changed to student uniforms in a proud pilot programme for equality. That the girls are all wearing skirts is only shown, not commented on by Ozon. Female students are pure props in this movie, not even one gets a speaking line. It's all about the boys.

“To be continued,” is how Claude ends his reports about his schoolfriend Rapha (Bastien Ughetto) and his desirable, normal, perfect family life and the Germains, his teacher plus his wife, are hooked by the lives of others, the "Rapha family", Rapha father (Denis Ménochet), Rapha son, and mother Esther as the holy spirit of bored housewives. Only this isn't a soap opera and Esther is played by the luminous Emmanuelle Seigner, whose presence can never be boring, even in floral dresses with slouchy cardigans, obsessed with decorating magazines and referred to as "the world's most bored woman".

Ozon loves to let his audience's perceptions clash. "Flaubert doesn't mock his characters," says the teacher, mocking his pupil. Luchini creeps through the school, eyes wide open, brain racing, moral compass broken by the dubious excitement of tutoring this boy.

"Why do you switch to present tense?" Germain asks his student. "To stay in the house," Claude responds. Esther decorated a wall of said house with three watercolors by Paul Klee: The Angels of Rescue, Interruption, and Hope are joined by a fourth one on the opposite wall, The Angel of Destruction.

Who is the fictional character? How about a little more Pasolini and a little less writing from an art catalogue? Ozon grants the wish. Sometimes Claude has the look of a intruder from a Michael Haneke film, while the detailed world resembles that of David O Russell's Silver Linings Playbook.

Social media are never mentioned, but Ozon's reflections on the private and the public talk about just that. Keeping tabs on the life of strangers, coveting others' wives and lives, is that what it means to be in the house? The boundaries of curiosity are fluid.

Reviewed on: 23 Feb 2013
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Fiction and reality become blurred between a teacher and student.
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Director: François Ozon

Writer: François Ozon, based on the play by Juan Mayorga

Starring: Kristin Scott Thomas, Emmanuelle Seigner, Denis Ménochet, Fabrice Luchini, Jean-François Balmer, Ernst Umhauer, Diana Stewart, Fabrice Colson, Stéphanie Campion, Bastien Ughetto

Year: 2012

Runtime: 105 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: France


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