The director François Ozon’s new film IN THE HOUSE (DANS LA MAISON) is an unusually structured movie where the plot construct is self-consciously overweening. I am still mulling over my own response to IN THE HOUSE. The interweaving of reality and fantasy, the dislocation of time, the artifice of the “story-line,” and the nature of the teacher/student relationship, becomes the movie’s dizzying underpinnings. YES this one is still rattling around in my head especially since I have been insinuating myself into historical works of art, through the manipulation of photographs for the past few years, so I felt an uneasy personal affinity to the blurring of the edges of fact and fiction.
The film starts off with digital animations that rush by us on the screen during the opening titles – so we are visually alerted to the fact that what we see can be toyed with, and we are not dealing with traditional straightforward movie fare. We then meet one of the two protagonists – Monsieur Germain, the teacher (Fabrice Luchini) who is at a meeting in a Lycee (High School) named after one of France’s greatest authors - Gustave Flaubert (the ultimate literary stylist), a clue that we will be dealing with ideas about writing and the “creative” process.
Monsieur Germain, a self acknowledged “failed” novelist is grading assigned papers at home, disgusted and bored with the level of idiocy in his writing class complaining to his Art Gallerist, equally self-absorbed wife (Kristin Scott Thomas) about his students, when he reads an essay titled “In The House” containing a spark of lucidity and a flair for language and observation written by Claude Garcia (confidently acted by Ernst Umhauer.) We then meet this handsome 16 year-old boy who is furtively spying on another young man, his home and family. Claude’s background is barely revealed; we know he lives alone with a disabled father- his mother having left the family when he was a child. By the intensity of his expression and the mutually collaborative passion of the symbiotic student/teacher relationship, we become aware of Claude’s obsessive desire for what he perceives as “normalcy.”
We, the audience, are then drawn into the film’s ensuing drama, witnessing the endless revisions, editing and re-editing of the original “In The House” essay. Ultimately Claude through his friendship with the "model" family's son gains access into the “house” and participates in their family life, where he himself becomes a pivotal, creepy, catalytic force in the development of the narrative. Subsequent episodes psychologically reveal the lives of the characters that Claude covets. Throughout this complicated stagecraft, the student is in constant collaboration with his abject teacher who is advising him as to style and literary do’s and don’t's, and occasionally pops up (invisible to others) at critical moments in the film with plot contrivances and recommendations.
The prevailing question is how much of what we are seeing is real and how much is simulated by a fertile imagination? Watching IN THE HOUSE I felt drained by the brain-twisting, chilling and yet pathetically touching incidents of a boy in need of a family, and having to invent one – over and over again.