Prolific director Francois Ozon won’t be pinned down by genre. Just consider: a whodunit musical “8 Women”, a paean to parenthood “Ricky”, the steamy ‘Swimming Pool” and the gentle feminist “Potiche”. His latest, “In The House” based on a play by Juan Mayorga, plays with the ideas of the voyeurism of literature. Let’s call it a literary thriller.
Bored with his sullen, useless high school students, French teacher Germain (Fabrice Luchini) discovers a talented pupil. Claude Garcia (Ernst Umhauer) turns in a surprising writing assignment. He befriends sheltered classmate Rapha Artole (Bastien Ughetto), in order to insinuate his way into the bourgeois household.
The working-class, at risk Claude Garcia has observed Rapha ‘s doting parents picking him up at school, and the latchkey kid is curious. What’s more, he begins harboring fantasies about Rapha’s beautiful mother Esther (Emmanuelle Seigner).
German reads the piece to his wife, Jeanne (Kristen Scott-Thomas). Soon He, she and the audience are hooked on what the sly Claude Garcia will do next. In fact, complicitous Germain begins making suggestions about “Plot points” as Claude Garcia becomes indispensable to the family.
Now we are in dangerous territory. Passive Germain begins manipulating the characters second-hand, but lest we think he’s the heavy Ozun makes it clear that clever Claude Garcia is capable of manipulating Germain’s contempt for his own purposes. The calculated description of Rapha’s mother “that distinctive odor of the middle-class woman” is a depth charge from which Germain, jeannetet and the audience never recover.
And Germain begins to appear, like an Angel or Devil over Claude Garcia’s shoulder, in the story within the story. And an amusing sequence watches the iterations at play, when Rapha takes Germain’s suggestion and rewrites a scene we’ve just watched.
There’s a soupcon of Hitchcock’s notions carefully retread, with echoes of “Vertigo”, “Rear Window” and “Strangers On A Train” at work: and a pinch of Claude Lelouche’s amusing “Roman de gare.”
Jeanne runs a gallery and is at risk of losing it, Her patron has died, and his heirs and sisters are disinterested in art. There are some amusing jokes about the merchandizing of Contemporary art.
Germain’s unholy involvement puts his marriage at risk. Ernst Umhaue gives a layered performance. There’s a perverse glint in his eye, and he keeps the audience guessing. The formidable Fabrice Luchini weaves his own layers as he descends into a destructive addiction.
The third act is a bit of a let down: perhaps it worked better on stage.
Frequent composer Philippe Rombi’s score abets the Pirandelloesque excursion, as Ozun keeps the audience guessing over who’s culpable. The decorative last sequence, a detailed look into the windows of an apartment complex is like “Rear Window” on steroids.