Director François Ozon
Cast: Fabrice Luchini, Ernst Umhauer, Kristin Scott Thomas
Watch In the House online in the UK: Sundance Now / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Google Play
François Ozon’s In The House is a strange film to pin down; part farcical comedy, part dark character study. But even if the tone isn’t consistent, it’s still a hugely entertaining and well-directed movie with a great cast of characters.
Germain (Fabrice Luchini), a failed writer turned high school Literature teacher, is depressed at the complete lack of talent in his new class. But when shy student Claude (Ernst Umhauer) hands in a riveting story about his attempts to spy on the so-called perfect family of one of his classmates, Germain becomes intrigued – and what starts as an attempt to nurture Claude’s talent takes on a much more sinister turn, as the line between fact and fiction becomes increasingly blurred.
It’s appropriate enough that Germain and his wife Jeanne (brilliantly played by Kristin Scott Thomas) go to the cinema to see Match Point, because the film is more than a little reminiscent of Woody Allen’s work. Luchini – who even looks a little like Allen – has the same demeanour, cynical and sharp-witted but still capable of being surprised and even enchanted by the work of his young protégé.
There’s some interesting backstory to be had from Jeanne’s art gallery, which specialises in bizarre phallic pieces as well as the kind of subversive crap you’d expect, plus some wonderful moments of magical realism when Germain himself pops into the middle of the scenes Claude is describing. It’s played just right; always funny, but never distracting from the weirdness of Claude’s actions, while Jeanne is on hand to remind us of Mark Chapman’s unhealthy obsession with The Catcher in the Rye.
But the film isn’t all smiles and sunshine; beneath the quick words, there’s a darkness to the tale that almost feels Hitchcockian. It helps that Ernst Umhauer is superb as the young Claude. With his angelic blonde hair and piercing blue eyes, it’s impossible not to be reminded of Anthony Perkins’ immortal turn as the owner of a certain motel. There’s even a great final shot that could have come straight from Rear Window.
Unfortunately, it seems that, like Claude himself, the movie is searching for an ending it never seems to find. It deserves praise for avoiding the obvious We Need to Talk About Kevin route, but after a final half hour that skilfully ratchets up the tension, everything seems to end on a rather flat note.
But that doesn’t make everything that precedes it any less enjoyable; In The House is a well-made film, brilliantly acted and skilfully shot. A story about storytelling, it’s witty and creepy in equal measure.
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