In the House

In the House, the latest film by French director François Ozon, is an impressive psychological comedy that explores the collision of truth and fiction through literary narrative. The film is by no means easy, but its director displays such cinematic dexterity that the complex thematic features develop not only comprehensibly, but more importantly, enjoyably. Based on the play The Boy in the Last Row by Juan Mayorga, though deviating from it significantly, In the House charts the relationship between creative writing teacher Germain (Fabrice Luchini) and promising student Claude (Ernst Umhauer).

Germain (Fabrice Luchini) and Jeanne (kristin Scott Thomas)

Germain (Fabrice Luchini) and Jeanne (kristin Scott Thomas)

Germain is at first disturbed by his student’s voyeuristic writing, with Claude documenting the private, domestic affairs of his classmate Rapha; however, as the teacher becomes more engrossed, the student’s writing becomes more personal and fanciful. As the film approaches its climax, one begins to question how much of Claude’s narrative is true and how much is driven on by his manipulative desire to toy with Germain’s own aspirations for the work.

Claude (Ernst Umhauer) and Rapha (Bastien Ughetto)

Claude (Ernst Umhauer) and Rapha (Bastien Ughetto)

Germain’s obsession with concrete, analytical prose is off-set by the abstract, symbolism that his gallery curator wife (Kirstin Scott Thomas) represents. However, as all three are sucked further into the Artole family life through Claude’s writing, passion and desire are seen to predominate, placing strain on the protagonists’ relationships. When Claude describes his seduction of Rapha’s mother, the narrative begins to spiral out of control, before resolving in its somewhat unexpected, though chillingly passive, denouement.

Claude inserts himself into the Artole family narrative

Claude inserts himself into the Artole family narrative

The levels of meta-fiction already present in the film compel the viewer to explore the wider possibilities of the work. Whilst superficially it appears that Claude is writing the story of Rapha’s family, the film’s turn in its final phase begs reevaluation. What we discover, though of course the possibility has been latently present throughout the film, is that Claude is in fact telling the story of his teacher, Germain. Claude’s ability, through his writing, to enter into the house of his friend Rapha is only one remove from his penetration of Germain’s domestic sanctuary. Writer becomes God, not as it commonly suggested by his omniscience, but, instead, by his omnipotence – by his ability not only to locate all areas but to reside within them. By watching the film, by engaging with Claude’s narrative, the audience becomes complicit in its voyeurism.

W. J. Humphries

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