Like all good French films, In the House is a stylish character study with crisp dialogue and subtle humour that begins with a hint of intrigue and ends up fully-fledging into a risqué look at teenage voyeurism. Directed by Francois Ozon of 8 Women and Potiche fame, and supported by the ever-terrific Kristin Scott Thomas, this dark comedy shows that nobody quite does it like the French.
In suburban France schoolteacher Germain (Fabrice Luchini) takes a keen interest in the writings of introvert 16-year old student Claude (Ernst Imhauer) as he begins to incorporate his feelings into his homework of the days spent at his classmate Rapha’s house. These honest thoughts spark the failed author in Germain, and he soon takes Claude under his wing, guiding him into become a better writer – or so he thinks.
With Rapha as his muse, or rather, Rapha’s sultry mother Esther (Emmanuelle Seigner), Claude develops an unhealthy obsession into their family life and soon fiction blurs with fact. Despite Germain’s wife Jeanne (Kristin Scott Thomas) voicing her reservations, the dangers of Claude’s transcribed intrusion does not just apply to Rapha. Is he the gifted protégé Germain believes to be, or is there something more to Claude and his manipulative ways?
The plot can be seen as two-fold; Germain’s fascination with Claude and in turn Claude’s obsession with an idyllic family environment, their respective addictions soon developing from mild curiosity into something uncontrollable. As much as the chemistry bouncing between these two form the film’s crux, the sub-characters flesh out the finer details.
Stressed-out wife Jeanne, fuelled by the potential loss of her position as art curator of a gallery, provides the voice of reason (Scott Thomas showing she’s found her forte in French cinema), while Esther highlights that the French can even make what essentially is a MILF look classy.
Then there’s Rapha’s father, Rapha senior, as the unsuspecting, loving but temperamental man of the house, delivering the comic relief with his brash behaviour and over-the-top love of basketball and all things Chinese. And if you can’t quite put your finger on where you’ve seen jovial papa Denis Menochet before, you’ll be surprised to remember he plays another, altogether more different, father in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds.
Yet these characters do deliver some lengthy conversations; some might find this too wordy, thus too much. And while there is dialogue aplenty, that shouldn’t be too surprising given that the film is about writers – and that it’s French. It could have done without the second half drifting into dream-like territory with the constant tease of a faux twist, but it’s nonetheless a captivating story.
Expertly held together by Ozon, he displays the raconteur qualities which have touted him as the French-Pedro Almadovar, using similar disquieting subject matters in a light-hearted way. In the House falls short of this high praise, but certainly adds towards it.