French filmmaker Francois Ozon has always dipped his toes into the provocative pools of persuasion regarding various titillating subject matters. While exploring a variety of genres that ranged from employment-related satire (‘Potiche’) to psychosexual thrillers (‘Water Drops On Burning Rocks’), Ozon has maintained a targeted concentration on the sensationalistic elements of his edgy cinematic stories. Even Ozon’s attempt to combine elements of musical-driven whodunits (‘8 Women’) has some ambitious tendencies to consider.
A particular genre in general—the concept of art—is the focus of Ozon’s creative inquiries in the unassuming dark drama ‘In The House’. Eerily quirky, sardonic and perceptive, ‘In The House’ settles in on the ‘teacher-student’ dynamic as it probes the relationships of art and writing while floating around realms of seduction. One of Ozon’s previous overseas big screen hits in the compelling ‘Swimming Pool’ also investigated skillfully the revolving sentiments involving art, writing and the pusuit for the fruitful flesh.
In essence, ‘In The House’ is an impish meditation on the art form. Ozon skillfully establishes the mystique behind the existence of art and how it registers with our untapped psyches. Much like ‘Swimming Pool’s pretty protagonist played by Charlotte Rampling’s vacationing novelist whose struggling rituals with writing and vague identification of sexual taunting is displayed, Ozon presents this same dilemma for ‘In The House’s Germain (Fabrice Luchini) as an equally frustrated novelist.
The bored Germain currently teaches the literature from his accomplished peers that he unfortunately could not keep up with professionally. He is reduced to taking a backseat to these revered scribers in quieted humiliation as he mechanically instructs high school students. Germain is married to Jeannie (Kristin Scott-Thomas), an art gallery worker trying to keep the business afloat in the aftermath of the venue’s deceased owner. Hence, the married couple’s flirtation with high art is at a crossroads threatening to ruin what romance is left in their intimate lives.
What will eventually spice up the artful existences of Germain and Jeannie is the entrance of one of Germain’s students named Claude (Ernst Umhauer). Apparently, Claude has a colourful knack for putting the pen to the paper and coming up with intriguing stories speculating about the trials and tribulations of a fellow student’s peculiar family. Claude’s entries are shocking as his writing reveals how deceptive his ways are in the manner on how he insinuates himself into this family to document their private practices.
Claude’s journal captivates Germain and Jeannie as it energises their barren curiosities. The hours of nourishing the minds of semi-literate teen boys was an uneventful and exhausting challenge for Germain until Claude came to the rescue with his risqué accounts of domestic manipulation. The question remains: are Claude’s mischievous writings factual or fictional? Does Germain have a right to be disturbed or delighted by Claude’s naughty narratives as the manipulative pupil infiltrates his unsuspecting classmate’s personal family business under the guise of a math tutor?
Taut, suspenseful, lyrical and ambiguously comical, ‘In The House’ incorporates some Hitchcockian overtones as it playfully mulls over the human targets with philosophical queries of self-identity and self-fulfilment. The fact that both Germain and Jeannie need the stimulation of a youth’s wild imaginations (or rambunctious realities) to ignite their stagnant craft speaks volumes for that old adage on how life imitates art.
Both veteran performers Luchini and Scott-Thomas (finding new relevance in French cinema nowadays) give solid performances as the disillusioned married couple experiencing a piercing malaise with a not-so-adventurous expression with art and carnal emotion. As the tawdry teen with the overzealous passages of intrusion, Umhauer’s Claude is the catalyst for the teasing and temptation of the mature tandem’s stillborn desires and yearning for psychological connection.
Sophisticated and shrewdly observational, ‘In The House’ is Ozon’s underlying slick and buoyant social commentary of what feeds us internally for artistic inspiration. Sedate and oddly witty, the exquisite voyeurism in this ‘House’ is devilishly digested with imaginative cynicism, suspicion and detachment.
In the House (2013)
Cohen Media Group
1 hr. 45 mins.
Starring: Kristin Scott-Thomas, Fabrice Luchini, Ernst Umhauer
Directed by: Francois Ozon
MPAA Rating: R
Genre: Drama/Mystery & Suspense
Critic’s rating: *** stars (out of 4 stars).