In the House 2012 (Original French Title: Dans la maison)
In the House starts innocently.We see a bespectacled teacher sitting and eating a snack absentmindedly. He is listening to the Principal make a speech about introducing uniforms.He does not share the Principal’s enthusiasm that uniforms will bring another level of equality in the school.But it is this elusive sense of equality that is one of the cornerstones of this very engaging and inventive new film by Francois Ozon.
We see Germain (Fabrice Lucini),a somewhat frustrated school teacher trying to teach his teenaged students to write.He is meeting with very little success.We see him grading compositions at home.He has asked his class to describe their weekend.All he gets from most are couple of lines about pizza and TV.The students lack of writing skills is matched only by their lack of imagination.In the midst of these still born assignments he finds one which actually has two pages of writing.He begins to read it aloud to his wife Jeanne(Kristin Scott Thomas).This is one of the ways in which they engage with each other in middle age, without children or cats.The writer is an average boy called Claude(Ernst Umhauer) who writes about his visit to his friend Rapha’s (Bastien Ughetto) house.It should not amount to much except for the fact that its written in good quality prose and suggests that Claude is manipulating Rapha.
Claude has been watching the house for sometime and has finally managed to gain entry in the guise of trying to help Rapha with his math.Claude comes from a broken family and lives alone with his handicapped father is a run down apartment.He is curious about what happens in the perfect looking homes of the middle class. In his first essay he describes Rapha’s mother Esther (Emmanuelle Seigner) lounging on a sofa, smelling like a middle class woman.The description is at once disturbing and erotic.He signs off his essay ”to be continued”.Its almost like the pilot for a juicy soap opera.
Germaine’s interest is aroused, he has found a protégée who can fulfill his fantasy of being a writer.Claude reminds him of his young days, he too sits in the middle of the class, just like he did-”You can see everyone but nobody notices you”.Jeanne is intrigued too, but warns Germaine from encouraging what appears to be a dangerous and perverted game.She runs an art gallery and is struggling to survive in her job.Her exhibits include inflated sex dolls with faces of Stalin and Hitler.Germaine coaches Claude in the art of writing, and Claude burrows deeper and deeper into the Rapha household as well as Germaine’s mind. Each installment of his racy saga is read with breathless anticipation by Germaine and Jeanne.There is not a moment of silence in the film, I struggled to clean my glasses as I would have missed the subtitles.
The film is based on a play The Boy in the Last Row by Juan Myorga and Mr Ozon transforms the fertile material into a piece of cinema with a universal appeal.He implicates us skillfully in an act of voyeurism with Germain but does not punish us the way Michael Hanake does.While Mr Hanake uses an icy tone in similar situations, Ozon takes on a playful one. But voyeurism is the not the only theme here.Mr Ozon comments on French society in general, the nature of art and literature, the life of the petit bourgeoisie in modern France, the dysfunctional education system and the class divide while skillfully comparing life in two very different households. One is unpolished working class with a child and the other very educated, cultured and childless. Rapha’s mother Esther is the archetype bored housewife trapped in her home decoration magazines.His father is forever terrorized by his boss and dreams of starting a business of his own, his naïveté makes us worry for the family. The performances here are uniformly wonderful and the background score adds considerably to the pace of the film.
Laurent Cantet’s wonderful 2008 film The Class (Entre les murs) looked at a sincere teacher trying to work with a very mixed group of students.Here Germain focusses his energy on one gifted student and the result is a very engaging and funny film tackling the same broad range of issues. Mr Ozon keeps us hooked with his relentless pace and breathless dialogue.In the House is a film packed with sly humour and telling social commentary.
Categories: World Cinema