In the House (2012)
★★★ / ★★★★
It is only the first week of school and Germain (Fabrice Luchini), a teacher of literature, is already exasperated. Having assigned his students to write about their weekend, many of the papers he received each consists of about three sentences long—mentioning pizza, television, and their overall feeling of boredom.
But not Claude (Ernst Umhauer). His paper goes on great detail about making friends with a classmate named Rapha (Bastien Ughetto)—mocking his middle-class family and lifestyle. Germain is bothered by the sixteen-year-old’s invasion of a family’s privacy and yet he encourages Claude to keep writing because he shows promise.
Based on the play “The Boy in the Last Row” by Juan Mayorga and adapted to the screen by François Ozon, “Dans la maison” follows the footsteps of multilayered films about voyeurism while establishing an identity of its own. Though the pacing drags somewhat in the latter half, the bizarre, possibly dangerous, student-teacher relationship fascinates.
One cannot help but question who is in control. Though Germain reckons he is helping a promising student to improve his writing, there is something about Claude that is deeply unsettling. If he is manipulative enough to worm his way through a family’s private space, what damage could he bestow in a public space, the classroom and the school, when he ended up not liking what his mentor had to say? Germain is smart and very tough to impress. Claude is clearly very intelligent and we suspect that perhaps it is only a matter of time until he realizes that he does not need his teacher. On the other hand, what good is a writer without another who is willing to read his work?
The intrigue that unfolds during Claude’s conquest begins to bleed through Germain and Jeanne’s marriage. It is interesting how the more they discuss what the boy is up to, the more we notice the fractures that exist in Jeanne (Kristin Scott Thomas) and Germain’s relationship. There are many shots of the two of them directly looking at each other in the eyes only when the gifted student is being discussed. When Jeanne begins to talk about her job in the gallery and the stresses that come with it, Germain is often disinterested. He feigns to give a damn and he itches for the conversation to go back to Claude.
The direction by Ozon is so fluid in that major turn of events are played small. More pedestrian filmmakers would have gone through the expected route. At some point, it was a challenge for me to pinpoint where realism has begun to touch the fantastic. At the same I didn’t mind because I was always curious about where it was heading and how relationships would unspool.
“In the House” is open to interpretation—very few absolutes—and that is what makes it compelling. For instance, which is the point of the story: the boy’s obsession with the family or the teacher’s addiction to the boy’s work? Do they need be mutually exclusive? Who is doing more harm: Claude for being the one who steps into that house or Germain for knowing what is going on but choosing to do nothing? Or is it Germain for not being more attentive toward what his wife has to say when, clearly, she is at a point where she needs more time and attention than the boy? The film urges us to think for ourselves and feel rather than being told what and how to process the information.