Ozon is back in fine form with this fun and twisted take on voyeurism and hidden desires.
Dir. Francois Ozon
2012 | France | Mystery/Drama | 105 mins | 1.85:1 | French
M18 (passed clean) for sexual content and language
Cast: Fabrice Luchini, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vincent Schmitt, Ernst Umhauer, Emmanuelle Seigner
Plot: A high school French teacher is drawn into a precocious student’s increasingly transgressive story about his relationship with a friend’s family.
Awards: Won FIPRESCI Prize (Toronto)
International Sales: Wild Bunch
Subject Matter: Slightly Mature
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
(Reviewed in theatres – first published 5 April 2013)
Francois Ozon is back in fine form in his latest picture, the appropriately-titled In the House that stars Fabrice Luchini, Kristin Scott Thomas and Emmanuelle Seigner. It also stars Ernst Umhauer as a teenage boy named Claude who one day hands in his essay to his teacher Germain (Luchini), the latter taking a strong interest in his writings.
In a bid to improve Claude’s writing, Germain discusses with Claude the finer points of characterizations, desires and conflict resolution in storytelling. All these seem fine except that Claude is writing based on his observations of real persons in someone’s house.
Ozon serves up a tantalizing dish that is shrouded in uncertainty, suspense and subtle eroticism, often using the art of prose to probe deep into the hidden layers of the human psyche. The film calls into question ethical concerns involving a private teacher-student agenda, while at the same time exploring the dark, often curiously voyeuristic desires of humans.
Claude acts as the channel in which such desires flow, either with or through him, but never functioning on his own accord. He is compelled to pursue his desires, including a desired resolution, yet Ozon manages to leverage the film by covertly breaking the fourth wall – aren’t the desires of characters as keenly felt by audiences too? Aren’t we also transferring our desires to what we see?
“Tolstoy. I hate Russians. I have only read the first and the last pages of Anna Karenina.”
This is what makes In the House such an intriguing work. The film’s tone and visual style is reminiscent of Ozon’s erotic-mystery Swimming Pool (2003), a film that also deals with writing and desires. However, In the House is a sharper film with many moments of offbeat humour.
The pacing and the setup are quick, and with the film bolstered by captivating performances, it is a fairly engaging experience even for mainstream viewers. It loses a bit of steam towards the final act with a quite probable though inherently bizarre turn of events, but the film never disappoints for most parts.
In the House sees Ozon cleverly toying with fiction and reality. In one scene, a character asks another, “Am I a fictional character?” In a few other scenes, fiction and reality merge to create a self-reflexive construct where imaginary characters communicate with real characters.
Still, as far as Ozon is concerned, the essence of In the House is best manifested in the Rear Window-esque epilogue that brilliantly captures the myriad of desires we would have liked to vicariously experience – that of violence, eroticism, conflict and mundaneness – but that proves elusive or unsavoury in real life.