DVD Review: In the House

In The House DVDSTUDIO: Cohen Media/Entertainment One | DIRECTOR: François Ozon | STARS: Fabrice Luchini, Kristin Scott Thomas, Emmanuelle Seigner, Denis Menochet, Ernst Umhauer
RELEASE DATE: 9/24/13 | PRICE: DVD $24.98, Blu-ray $34.98
BONUSES: making-of featurette, premiere footage, bloopers, costume fittings, poster gallery, deleted scenes
SPECS: R | 105 min. | Foreign language comedy drama | widescreen | Dolby Digital 5.1 | French with English subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  | Audio | Video | Overall

The term “literary movie” usually designates a staid (read: dull), well-budgeted adaptation of a noted novel. The sharp, very imaginative comic-drama In the House by the versatile filmmaker François Ozon (Potiche) is a wonderful example of literary cinema at its most playful, with a scenario spotlighting the voyeuristic impulses of readers and the exhibitionist tendencies of writers.

In this case the reader is Germain (Fabrice Luchini), a high-school literature teacher who takes an interest in an ongoing story being written for his class by Claude (Ernst Umhauer), a gifted, and openly manipulative, student.

The story involves the boy’s visits to his friend Rapha’s (Denis Menochet) house. Rapha is clueless dolt, but Claude envies his perfect middle-class family and also maintains a growing infatuation with Rapha’s mother (Emmanuelle Seigner, Change of Plans). Germain loves the engaging way the story is being written and begins to tutor Claude in order to refine his writing skills and structure his story better (and, we sense, make it more and more “dangerous”).

In the House movie scene

Kristin Scott Thomas and Fabrice Luchini in In the House.

Throughout the film it’s clear that some of the action in Claude’s story is indeed taking place in the real world, while the rest is being “co-authored” by Claude and Germain. The two play “master and servant,” with Germain imparting rules for storytelling and Claude providing challenging reading matter for his teacher.

While the members of Rapha’s “perfect family” are mostly used as human chess pieces in the “story” sequences, there is one other individual besides Germain who becomes a witness to the whole affair: Germain’s wife (Kristin Scott Thomas, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen), who initially objects to her husband’s obsession with Claude’s story, but eventually becomes just as curious as to how the tale will end.

Ozon carries off this tangled tale beautifully, making certain to include curveballs (sequences in which Germain enters the story to offer advice to Claude) and a healthy dose of mildly sublimated kinkiness (not-at-all sublimated kinkiness having been a hallmark of Ozon’s early arthouse hits up to and including The Swimming Pool). Here one teen boy kisses another, our young hero gains the affections of his middle-class goddess, and it becomes evident as the film moves on that Germain has a very unseemly interest in his prized student’s tale of voyeurism and lust.

Though the film proceeds out of a long tradition of self-reflexive cinema and literature, the central influence here, interestingly enough, is Woody Allen. Luchini dresses like Woody throughout (the glasses, the brown sweater, green coat) and he and his wife go to see Match Point in one sequence. The couple seems in fact to have emerged from Woody’s work of the last 30 years, with Scott Thomas’s character running a struggling art gallery that has on display a series of inflatable sex dolls with the faces of 20th century dictators.

The extras offer no interview with , or commentary from, Ozon, but they do include a bumper crop of related materials, including deleted scenes. Perhaps the best supplement is a featurette about a preview screening held exclusively for teachers. The viewers’ opinions range from praise (the film’s depiction of interaction between teachers is described as “very realistic”) to pertinent criticism (“he’s a terrible teacher!”).

One of German’s seminal pieces of advice for Claude is to find an “inevitable and surprising” ending that the reader would feel is the only proper one for the story. Ozon does that here, with a wonderfully subdued but brilliant finale that subtly reminds us that watching movies is even more of a voyeuristic pastime than reading fiction.

 

 

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About Ed

Ed Grant has written about film for a wide range of periodicals, books and websites. He edited the reference book The Motion Picture Guide Annual and, since 1993, has produced and hosted the weekly cable program Media Funhouse, which Time magazine called “the most eclectic and useful movie show on TV.”