In the House (Dans la maison)
This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 1st September 2013
With a title as deceptively mundane as its ordinary characters, In the House unfolds into a brilliantly witty tale of life imitating art imitating life.
Fabrice Luchini (The Women on the 6th Floor) is Germain, an increasingly cynical Parisian school teacher who really ought to be thinking about early retirement, until the daily drudgery of blank-faced pupils is suddenly lifted when a new kid starts handing in some writing of the extremely creative kind.
Enthralled by the first person narrative that always pauses “To be continued”, the prof shares the tales with his art gallerist wife (Kristin Scott-Thomas in a very fetching cropped hairdo, incisive as ever), before begrudgingly encouraging his pupil: “I don’t care for compliments, but you write well”. At the teacher’s prompting, the story continues – but quite where it is going proves cause for concern.
Ernst Umhauer plays teenage Claude with just the right mix of Machiavellian angel, hinting at a motivation that doesn’t fully transpire until the final scenes. Mirroring Claude’s gripping tale, the film’s narrative moves apace, grabbing you from the beginning (accompanied by a wonderfully symphonic soundtrack) and never letting up.
Director and writer Francois Ozon (maestro of countless superb films including the chilling Swimming Pool and the enthralling 5 x 2) has conceived a fascinating structure of literary cleverness, peopled by lively bohemian characters. It almost goes where you don’t dare it to, although ultimately the ending doesn’t quite do justice to the brilliance of the story. Nonetheless, In the House is vastly enjoyable.