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Director François Ozon's film In the House is a playful romp which baits and teases the viewer yet remains at all times cerebral, sharp-witted and intelligent.
The attendant publicity, the trailer and even the basic plot all seem to promise a film that smacks of The Graduate (young man's affair with older woman) or perhaps the even more recent Notes on a Scandal (inappropriate relationship between student and teacher).
For it is the story of a 16 year old boy Claude Garcia (Ernst Umhauer), who infiltrates his friend's home on the pretext of tutoring him in maths. He is drawn to the scent of a middle-class woman, his friend's sensuous mother. She has large sorrowful eyes and is shackled to a jock husband who has little regard for her artistic refinement and intellectual passions.
Claude begins recording his visits, honing his writing skills and passing on these impressions (or could they be fantasies) to his voyeuristic English teacher Germain Germain (Fabrice Luchini). Germain in turn hands over the instalments to his wife (played by Kristin Scott Thomas). Given the premise, the audience tends to sit back in the first half of this movie to enjoy the ride (it's pleasant enough), fully expectant of a certain destination.
But after cruising then comes the rude awakening. Subplots begin to unravel and story lines unfurl like kraken tendrils slithering towards an unsuspecting vessel.
It soon becomes apparent that the audience have been played, set up by a very clever director who is as interested in toying with his audience as he is in delineating his characters.
There is a line thrown in around mid-point, something like, "The best ending for any story is the one totally unexpected and yet when considered in retrospect it was the only possible perfect ending."
There are no spoilers here, only a warning. Do not take this director for granted. Go in with a fighting chance. Don't let him have all the fun at your expense. For Ozon says more about the art of story telling than he engages in telling his audience a story.
Further information: Opens June 27th. In the House (French: Dans la Maison) is a French film. It is based on the play The Boy in the Last Row by Juan Mayorga. The film was awarded the main prize at the 2012 San Sebastián International Film Festival, the Golden Shell, as well as the Jury Prize for Best Screenplay.