François Ozon’s In the House is a film that consistently flirts with greatness without ever quite elevating to the next level. Playing out in the form of a serialized novel by high schooler Claude Garcia (Ernst Umhauer), the French quasi-thriller builds its intrigue through the actions of literature professor Germain (Fabrice Luchini), who’s captivated by the two-page increments recounting Claude’s time at the home of classmate Rapha (Bastien Ughetto). Given seemingly daily critical observations of this middle-class family, Germain mentors his lone promising student and shares the pieces with his art dealer wife Jeanne (Kristin Scott Thomas), with whom he holds astute debates about the merits of art and whether or not it teaches humans something about life.
Comprised almost entirely of the visualized episodes at Rapha’s place, Germain’s constructive feedback to Claude, and the husband/wife discussions, plenty of sharp insights arise in regard to literature and the human condition. Indeed, this philosophizing is of far more interest than the lives of Rapha and his parents (Emmanuelle Seigner and Denis Ménochet), whose existence amounts to little more than mild domestic soap despite Claude’s creative recounts. Dissecting the installments and guessing what, if anything, has been exaggerated, it’s interesting to witness just how invested Germain and Jeanne are in the story, which in turn inspires an investment in theirs.
Sustaining this cycle of views and debates, In the House eventually hints at rising above when Germain begins appearing in the writing’s visualizations, his presence there both as observer/reader and critic, interacting with Claude as they discuss the work at hand. Assuming the role of voyeur (which Ozon is likely arguing all readers essentially are), when the distinction between autobiography and fiction grows unclear, Germain’s watching becomes dangerous in a way that fiction isn’t. Though the degree to which Claude ultimately manipulates his teacher remains undefined, the overall restrained nature and the possibility that the entire film is mere imagination subdue what would otherwise be grave consequences. As such, regardless of the tantalizing artistic theories put forth by Ozon, the distance they produce keeps the crisis from evolving beyond that of inconsequential abstracts to true engagement with flesh and blood creations.
Rated R for sexual content and language.
In the House is currently playing at the Fine Arts Theatre on Biltmore Ave.
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