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In the House (Dans la maison) - Film Review

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by Richard Leathem (subscribe)
Freelance writer. Melbourne based cinephile. Fond of food.
Published March 10th 2013
French director Francois Ozon's latest, In the House, sees a return to the kind of playful, subversive comedies that first gained him recognition in the 1990's.

The opening scene offers an irresistible premise that immediately hooks you in. A literature teacher Germaine, played by Fabrice Luchini, is at home with his wife Jeanne, Kristin Scott Thomas, complaining to her about the uselessness of his latest crop of students.

He starts reading examples of their inept essays on what they did for the weekend. Then he picks up a paper from one particular student whose story stands out not just for the quality of the writing but the intrigue of his subject. After months of sitting in front of a classmate's house, he has manipulated events to get an invitation inside. He writes about his unsuspecting new friend, and his furtive walk through the house and chancing upon the "middle-class mother….to be continued"

So begins the story, told in two page sequences, of 16 year old Claude, a mysterious boy who manipulates those around him. Like Germaine and Jeanne, we are willing voyeurs, as Claude ingratiates himself onto the inhabitants of the house he has craved to be a part of.

In the House resembles two previous Ozon films. The dark Sitcom, which also featured a character infiltrating a middle-class family and discovering varied forms of suppressed sexuality under the surface. It also echoes the more famous Swimming Pool, where fiction and reality collide. Is our storytelling protagonist a reliable narrator, or is he steering us where he wants us to go?

The premise is so clever and entertaining. Germaine, a failed writer himself, has his literary ambitions awaken as he tries to achieve his long latent goals vicariously through the young gifted writer he has found, but is that really his motivation for pressing Claude further into the story within the story?

Claude's presence in the house triggers a series of events that affect each family member, but his actions have an even greater impact on the couple reading his installments.

As if the main plot wasn't meaty enough, there's a very amusing story strand involving Jeanne's struggling art gallery and the increasingly envelope pushing installations she exhibits.

The entire cast is pitch perfect, Luchini and Scott Thomas posses great comic and dramatic chops, Emmanuelle Seigner is great as the bored housewife, and newcomer Ernst Umhauer is suitably enigmatic.

In the House reps the best of both worlds for Ozon, it has the cheekiness of his best comedies and the depth of his more sober works. As such, it is his most complete and satisfying film to date.

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Why? The latest from provocateur Francois Ozon
Where: At selected cinemas
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