i n t h e h o u s e
29th March 2013
Fabrice Luchini, Ernst Umhauer
28th March 2013
Like a naughty French schoolboy, Francois Ozon's latest offering is saucy, provocative and subversive and I loved every minute of it.
Despairing at the complete apathy he receives day in day out from his students and still harbouring bitter feelings about his failure as a writer, English teacher Germain (Fabrice Luchini) suddenly has his passion for life re- awakened by an unusual essay by a quiet boy in his class, Claude Rivet (Ernst Umhauer). Claude is reporting on life, in a provocative fashion, behind closed doors of his supposed best friend Rapha (Bastien Ughetto) and his seemingly perfect middle class life with his mother Esther (Emmanuelle Seigner) and father, another Rapha (Denis Menochet) . Ignoring the growing concern from his wife Jeanne (Kristen Scott Thomas) Germain gets more and more seduced by and involved with Claude's writing, at great risk, until it is impossible to see who is manipulating who.
Adapted from Spanish playwright Juan Mayorga's The Boy In The Last Row, In The House is written and directed by Ozon and owes more in tone to Potiche than any of his other movies; all of Ozon's favourite themes are here and it is vastly enjoyable. At first glance we start in a normal world but as the story progresses we are in hyper reality. The far too bright blue of the classroom walls, the house sits in green park land where you could rotate the house on every angle as if it were a stage, which of course it is – a stage for Claude's 'play'. Germain pops up in scenes to questions Claude's lazy writing or his veering towards romanticism. Classic novels are swapped for latest instalments like drug deals. Scenes are re-run for verisimilitude or over romanticism. Nothing is to be trusted. Emmanuelle Seigner and Denis Menochet are sublime as the seemingly perfect parents who never seem to quite ring true, always feeling slightly made up. The lines are completely blurred. Is it Germain's manipulation or Claude's manipulation? Germain seems to be the encourager, the enabler but when he becomes part of the story in an unfavourable way then surely Claude is the one with the power. It's skilfully handled by Ozon and keeps you wondering throughout the film.
In Ozon's Swimming Pool an older woman's passions were reawakened by a younger man, here a teenager reawakens the desires of an older man. As we watch Germain getting more and more involved with Claude of course there is the question of sexual desire. It is suspected at the school and even by Jeanne but what is interesting is that while it is questioned it is never fully addressed. The scene where Jeanne and Germain are discussing the possibility of Germain being in love with Claude is very funny and provocative. It is discussed with such straightforward and diplomatic reasonings (but my dear, he's a boy, I like women, - yes well strange desires arise in later life!). It is memorably and wonderfully played by Scott Thomas and Luchini.
Jeanne has an art gallery in the film which is used mostly for laughs. The twin owners threatening to shut her down are played for laughs and the artwork displayed is as close to being ridiculous as it can be. However the point being made here is a very clear one. These pictures of penises arranged in a Nazi symbol have no place amongst Claude's dusty classics and with no children to bind them together what do Jeanne and Claude have? At first they have the tenuous shared love of Claude's essays but as Jeanne's begins to question the morality of them the gulf between them widens; never demonstrated more than in the contemptuous way Germain talks about art brochures to Claude which Claude then uses against him later. It's a sad relationship but ultimately Germain is a tragic character.
This is the third film I've seen with Kristen Scott Thomas playing a French role and again, as with the other two, I love her in it and certainly feel like she has had more interesting roles in French movies as she has grown older. French filmmakers seem to embrace women ageing with a far more interesting view than Hollywood and it wonderful that Kristen Scott Thomas is able to dazzle in these roles rather than playing someone's grandma, actually probably great grandma in Hollywood seeing as she is SHOCK - 53. Anyway she looks, and is, amazing.
Fabrice Luchini is wonderful as sad sack Germain. Little pauses and looks say a huge amount on his expressive face. When things start to get too involved Claude voices “shall I stop?” The slight pause and look on Germain's face says it all. His comic timing is perfection and he manages to pull off a role that in the wrong hands could have oh so easily come across as creepy. The chemistry between Luchini and Umahuer is perfection. On the subject of Umhauer – well, what a find he is, Ozon must have leapt out of his seat when he found this boy. His precocious, sardonic teenager has so much natural charm that it is easy to understand why 'the most bored woman in the world' would consider a sexual relationship with her teenage son's friend. I was. And my movie date (another thirty something female) was, so he's definitely got it! There's a great scene where Claude is explaining the meanings of the German titles of the Paul Klee watercolours Esther has hanging in the hallway. It's wonderful as we can see her passion awake at this seemingly worldly boy then the juxtaposition with Germain and Jeanne questioning a housewife having Klee watercolours. It no longer matters that they are reading about a teenage boy trying to seduce his best friend's lonely mother, it is more interesting that the watercolours don't ring true with the story. People's feelings have stopped being important. The story is now the only important thing.
No one is satisfied in this movie. Perhaps Rapha junior at the beginning but even he ends up unhappy. Everyone wants something else, is looking for something else to complete them. Perhaps ultimately and bizarrely though it is Claude and Germain's relationship that is the lasting one. The last scene is particularly affecting.
In the House is a wonderfully subversive and playful movie which doesn't take itself too seriously – and nor should you.